I have been seeing a lot of emotionally charged contents expressing concerns for the elders which perhaps have good intent, especially given the fact, that with better medical facilities and increased life expectancy, demographically they make a sizable chunk of the population. To put it in perspective, for the first time in human history in 2021, the total number of seniors will be greater than the number of kids below 5 years of age. This increase is bound to bring in its unique socio-demographic situations which have not been experienced by the society at large. And for this very reason we need to approach this issue in a more practical and dispassionate way. It also acquires importance as the society as we had known it, is no longer the same and soon, this segment is going to be occupied by a generation which is much more different than their previous generations- and this difference is not the usual ‘difference of generation’. Conventionally the elders were looked after well in their respective families. Old Age homes were something to be frowned upon with only negative connotations.
Things are changing though and changing fast. To understand it, we shall have to understand the changing social dynamics. Then perhaps we shall be able to see it holistically as to why Gen X needs to look at the Old Age Homes more agreeably.
Is it the ‘Western Culture’ influence?
Many people tend to put the blame for the change on the present generation while some call it ‘Western influence’. I would rather call it a change brought about organically- only it happened in our country much later than say, any western country. It’s only now that our social, financial and personal aspirations are being met in a way which so far only the western world enjoyed, for the simple reason that they had resources and conducive geographical advantages to progress more as compared to the other parts of the world. So, to me there is no ‘Western culture’ or ‘Oriental culture’. We all are humans with same set of fundamental thoughts and that is, to survive in the best possible way in the given circumstances.
What made people stay together as a society and as a family till only two-three decades back?
History says that people started staying together because it suited their interests- both, as an individual and as a society, especially in the ‘agriculture era’. In India, till recently, most of the people lived in a well-knit society called villages. They helped each other for agriculture, during marriages, in births and deaths and in adverse times like illnesses. The social fabric was well-woven and due respect was given to the elders. This system enabled elders to lead reasonably happy lives as they had the confidence that someone would take care of them when needed. Did that showcase their better value system? I can not comment, but that certainly proved helpful. That was the need.
Why did that beautiful system disintegrate?
With economic liberation, came better job opportunities. Better life style beckoned in the cities; away from the floods, drought and the usual hardships. People didn’t really think anything about disintegration of those villages where the older people were taken care of, by being the part of a big family and by virtue of the power they wielded over younger generation with the currency of that time, i.e., agricultural land. With education, jobs and regular salaries, dependency on agriculture reduced and the need to stay as a close-knit society too diminished. Village people migrated to the cities and the more aware and educated people from the cities migrated to other countries. People are still migrating wide and far in the world for better living standards, job opportunities. The ‘patriarchy’ that survived on the power of these two parameters (agricultural and social), has almost declined. But then there is a price for everything and this disintegration of villages and big joint families, was the price that we paid for the development that we enjoy today.
Are the younger generation not bothered about their elders?
I would just say that this generation is not better or worse than their predecessors. Circumstances and situations though, are drastically different. The society has changed in a way which had not been experienced earlier. Throw in the technology and the transformations looks more radical.
What about our senior citizens?
However, the senior citizens, referred to as elders, face certain problems because of this social transformation. This is reflected in the transition from the traditional ways of life to modern patterns, which require many compromises and adjustments. Still they have managed or are managing by hanging somewhere between the old and new system with children visiting them occasionally. Their connect with their disintegrated, yet somewhat there clan, kept them going amidst all the changes.
What shall be the scenario after another decade or two, when the gen X enters in the ‘senior citizen’ zone?
Soon this space (senior citizens) is going to be filled by Gen X. Unlike their predecessors, this generation lives with much more freedom- both financially as well socially. Most of them have two children, some of them only one and still some of them have chosen to stay Double income no kids (DINK) families. With this scenario, is it finally time to embrace, which until now was a taboo and at its best, only a ‘western culture’? Are the old age homes a reality, much closer than we anticipated?
Is it time to look at the Old Age Homes (OAH) differently or rather warmly?
With much strong identity assertiveness, this generation is unlikely to move in with their adult children. Their needs and wants are different from seniors in earlier times. A significant section today is independent, financially stable, well-traveled, socially connected, and as a result, have well developed thoughts of how they want to spend time after retirement. Actually a lot of them intend to travel once their responsibilities are over. Incidentally, this generation will have a larger percentage of educated seniors as compared to the previous senior citizens. Likely, they will be more inclined to pursue hobbies, develop new interests or even continue working or starting a new career after retirement. In that sense, the world is becoming more and more western. More importantly, unlike their predecessors who treated children as ‘an investment for the old age’, this generation thinks differently. In a quirky way, they seem to have understood the essence of those famous lines of Khalil Gibran, “Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Also, there is this growing realization that the nuclear families are no longer equipped to take care of their aged family members. (Think of diseases like Alzheimer’s!). With all that as a backdrop, there is a growing acceptance for OAHs, though in a different way.
An emerging opportunity for the service providers and entrepreneurs.
Keeping all this in view, I think it’s time to warm up to the idea of OAHs and it’s also time for both public and private sectors to meet this new demand. This segment is going to present a tremendous opportunity to service providers and entrepreneurs to not only innovate on their housing needs but addressing their various lifestyle services and product needs. Health care sector too has a vast opportunity as more and more seniors are taking their health quite seriously and are looking for better services.
To sum it up, I would just say that we always associated the word ‘aspiration’ with youth. With Gen X this word will now inhabit the world of senior citizens too, to explore a new horizon. Are you ready Gen X !!
Data Sources: Census of India
Picture credit- Java-Coffee-IQ
Copyright © Aradhana Mishra