The Vulnerable Income Dynamics of India's Elderly Women

The benefits of property price rise and rentals have eluded elderly women even as purchasing power in the hands of older people has increased over the past two decades.

New Delhi: While the purchasing power in the hands of the older people has increased over the past two decades mainly on account of rising pensions and increasing property prices, their say in taking decisions on what to purchase still remains largely restricted with younger family members controlling their decisions.

Moreover, the lot of elderly women is even worse, as the benefits of property price rise and rentals rise has not affected them as much and they also draw relatively lower wages for work, a nationwide study,  “Changing Patterns of Income & Expenditure in Old Age: An Assessment”, by Agewell Foundation has revealed.

The study, conducted by the organisation with 400 volunteers, which sampled 10,000 elderly people (those over 60 years of age), including 5,101 from urban areas, found how the elderly, with increased life expectance, are now also more aware about the need to preserve financial resources.

After interviewing 4,762 elderly men and 5,238 women, the study found that with increased life expectancy, the old are now also becoming more aware about the need to preserve their limited financial resources so that they last them over their life span. However, despite this, about 80% of the respondents said they contributed financially towards their family.

The aim of the study was to assess the financial status, net-worth, purchasing power, and needs and requirements of the elderly, as also their contribution to their family and to assess their expenditure pattern considering that this group is a major consumer of certain categories of products.

Most elderly depend on pension for income, about 8% have none

The study found that among the middle and upper middle classes the main sources of income for the elderly were pension (30%), gainful engagement or job (20%), rent or interest earning (19%), old age pension (11.5%) and business (10.5%) with about 8% of the elderly having no or very marginal sources of income.

When it came to the urban or rural profile, the study discovered that among the old in rural areas, about 33.6% of those surveyed, and about 26.8% of those in urban areas, were receiving a major part of their income from pensions. Likewise, the dependence on old age pension was more in rural areas with about 16% of the respondents there getting old age pension as against only 7.2% in the urban areas.

On the other hand, the income from rent or interest was found to be more for the elderly in the urban centres with 25.3% of the respondents saying this was their main source. In the rural areas those dependent on rent or interest numbered around 13%.

As for the old working or being engaged in gain activities to support themselves, the figures were almost equal in both urban and rural areas with 20.9% respondents in urban centres and 19.5% in rural centres noting that they worked to eke out a living. But when it came to doing business or following their profession, the number of respondents among the elderly was much more in urban centres at 17% as compared to 3.8% in rural areas.

It was also found that in rural areas 14% older persons had no or negligible income in old age, while in urban areas this figure stood at around 3%.

More old women than men have no source of income

The survey also brought out how more elderly women than men across the country have no regular source of income. While among the old women, the percentage of those who had no source or income stood at 14%, in the case of men it was significantly lower at 2%.

The chairman of the foundation, Himanshu Rath, said analysis of the data had also revealed that elderly women in general received less pension and had fewer earnings from other sources as well.

“It was found that for 28% elderly women pension or family pension was the major source of income in comparison to 33% of elderly men. Likewise, when it came to being engaged in jobs or gainful employments, only about 19% of the women were being able to earn a living this way in comparison to about 21% elderly men. Also, only about 8% of the women surveyed were having any income from a business or profession as compared to about 14% men,” he said.

Women earn much less than men

The data also revealed that when it came to monthly income, about 12% women earned between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 in comparison to about 8% men and that about 11% women earned between 10,000-15,000 per month as against about 7% men. But as the income grew, the share of women decreased. So when it came to those earning between Rs 15,000-20,000 the number of women fell to 5.5% as against 8.4% of men, and similarly only about 5% of them earned over Rs 20,000 per month as against about 9% of men.

A reason for the low incomes of women probably also lies in the inheritance laws under which men used to get preference in most parts of the country in the past.

Property, caring children lead to feeling of well-being

In the case of most of the elderly surveyed, the study found that their primary source of net-worth was property with 75% having land or a house in their name. While e41% had some kind of investments or savings, 50% owner jewellery and valuable ornaments, while 49% had other valuable items in their name.

About 82% of all respondents in rural areas and 85% in urban areas claimed that their net worth had increased over the past two decades, resulting in a consequent increase in their purchasing power. But apart from property price increase, about 26% respondents also claimed that their purchasing power has increased primarily due to their well-settled children, who have shared their income with them. About 20% of the respondents also attributed the increased purchasing power to higher pensions or earnings from their profession while about 15% said they were earning more due to higher rental earnings.

But despite having more money in their hands, the survey found that still only about 32% of elderly use their own discretion while making any kind of purchases with family members taking the call in about 27% cases, spouse in about 21 % and others in about 4.6%.

For a vast majority medical and health care remains a priority

When it came to requirement and spending, the study found that about 89% of those surveyed were found to be facing medical problems. The prevalence of this problem was found to be more among men (65.5%) than women (34.5%).

Despite men in general being financially better off, the survey revealed that elderly men still faced more financial problems than elderly women.

Among the major head of spending for the elderly were medical or healthcare products (31%), food and clothing for self (28%), family and social obligations (24%) and investments with financial institutions (17%).

Old people, who have purchasing power, spent 31% of their income on medical/ healthcare products/ services, 28% on foods/clothes for self/ spouse, 24% on their respective families/social obligations.

With so much to spend on, about 37% of the elderly claimed that their income was less than their expenditure while about 5.5% said they were just about able to break even.

Most elderly contributing financially towards their family

Despite having limited sources of income and faced with an increasing expenditure due to growing age and failing health, about 58% of the elderly were found to be still contributing towards the family expenditure. Another 22% claimed to be contributing “occasionally”.

Noting that despite all these findings, the elderly are still not kept in mind by most companies while devising their product or marketing strategies, Rath said: “The time has come to give due importance to older persons while developing and implementing various marketing and advertising strategies. They are not only growing in numbers and living for longer years, but they are also emerging as influential consumer/buyers section now”.

As such, he said the need of the day is to design “products in a more user-friendly and practical manner so that the older persons are able to cope with difficulties in their daily life. Providing accessible services and products can significantly contribute to the aim of an equal social, economic, political, and cultural participation of older persons”.