On the occassion of International Womens Day 2010

Agewell Study on Status of Older Women In India
Agewell Research & Advocacy Centre

March, 2010


Old women have restricted social interaction, limited earning possibilities, several medical complications, emotional isolation (in many cases even from their own children), very limited knowledge or awareness of their legal rights and natural reluctance to seek justice.

In many Indian societies women are considered second class citizens. They have been legging behind in almost all walks of life for centuries. They have never been financially independent. Due to less social interaction they even don’t know about their rights and powers. They are always dependent on male members of the family for their basis needs, even for day-to-day requirements.

Older women have more critical problem than older men. Due to social and traditional family structure they are forced to live with many limitations. Hence they find themselves marginalized and isolated all the time. As women live longer than men, most older women have to live a life of a widow in their silver years.

Although there are many social organizations and activist working for empowering women through various mediums, and laws have also been made for protection and empowerment of women, older women lead a marginalized life and many women still live a neglected and miserable life.

Recently Agewell Research & Advocacy Centre has methodically conducted a survey of elderly women and brought out some interesting facts on present status of elderly women in India.

Methodology and sample design

Comprehensive interviews were undertaken by managing time-bound schedules to collect information /impression/views from selected older persons from across the country. Under the survey a representative sample of 6000 older women (approx. 3000 each from rural and urban areas) was interviewed spread across 20 states of the country.

In each group the target was to include every sections of the society, specifically –

o       Retired older women
o       Non-pensioners/labourer farmers
o       Housewives
o       Literate
o       Illiterate
o       Financially secure
o       BPL family

Sample Units

The sample units were selected based on random sampling from five divisions as per following;
S. No
Type of sample
No of sample districts
No of  sample blocks*
No of respondents

Region 1 – North India

Uttar Pradesh,
Haryana,  Punjab,  Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand,  Delhi

Region 2 – South India

Andhra Pradesh  Tamilnadu
Kerala, Karnataka

Region 3 – East India

West Bengal, Orissa,  Assam

Region 4 – West India

Rajasthan,  Maharashtra,

Region 5 – Central India

Madhya Pradesh,  Bihar
Jharkhand,  Chhattisgarh

All India Total

* 2-3 blocks were selected from each district for the study randomly, one from a block headquarters and the others from rural area.

Age-group wise classification of respondents

Respondents were further categorized in age group to understand the problem of isolation in old age better
61-70 Years
71-80 Years
81+ Years
Rural-Older women
Urban-Older women



Following are some of the major findings related to older women study-wise;

Role of Older Women in democratic process

o       78.2% older women casted their votes during last general elections. In urban areas elderly women were found more interested in poll process, where 80.1% older women claimed that they casted their votes.

o       61% older women say that health care needs are their primary need in Old Age. Whereas in rural areas 53% older women said that their most important need was food.

Impact of Economic Slowdown on Older Women of India

o       78% of elderly women respondents (79%, 77% and 78% respondents in age-groups of 55-60 years, 61-65 years and 66-70 years respectively) say the economy was in very bad condition and getting worse.
o       Over 66.7% eldery women had started making radical changes such as getting gainful occupational engagements, reducing their expenses on recreational facilities and luxuries.
o       In Urban Areas elderly women were found more affected, as their source of income was directly affected by the economic slowdown.

Status of Older women in Minority Communities

o       74% of older women from minority community were facing health related problems. Percentage of medically affected women was higher in Muslim community (81%).
o       Majority of older women from minority community (74.2%) was dependent on their family members and others for their basic daily needs. Dependency level in rural areas was found higher.

Status of Older Women in Nuclear Families

o       75.2% older women were found living in nuclear or small families. In rural areas 76% older women were reportedly found living in nuclear or small families.

o       Only 18% were living with their joint/extended families. 9% of older women were found living with their respective spouses or all alone.

Isolation in Old Age for Women

o       81.1% older women were found isolated in old age (60+). Level of isolation in old age of old women living in urban areas was quite higher upto 85.1% in comparison to older persons of rural areas (76%)

o       In rural areas 38% older women were reported isolated socially as well as emotionally.

o       Elderly women were found less isolated than elderly men due to their inner strengths, like patience, fine-tuning with family/society members, etc.


Ø     Due to negligence, lack of awareness, financial support and religious mindset of women, older women often have to face acute health problems.

Ø     Today many older women have property/money but they can not possibly use the money or take financial decisions on their own.  Social traditions don’t allow them to use their ancestral property / money for their own welfare. They may be rich or poor, they always have to act according to others’ directives.

Ø     In old age most of the older women face family problems like uncomfortable relations with daughters-in-law, limited interaction with children, grand-children. Their daughters-in-law don’t like their interference in family matters, children are busy with their jobs, their husbands invariably have mood swings after retirement and  mostly restrict their free movements.

Ø     Most old women are self conscious. Due to their home-bound lifestyle they don’t attain confidence even in their young life. Changes in appearance in old age, dependence on spectacles, hearing aids, receding hairline, wrinkled skin… everything makes them more and more self-conscious.

Ø     In old age almost all the women turn towards religion. Most women turn to religious activities like Satsang, Pravachan, pilgrimage, etc. after loosing their life-partner or any other family members. Some are from orthodox/religious background and have been following religious lifestyle since childhood.

Ø     Older women, who live in cities, are more prone to social alienation/marginalization in comparison to older women of villages. Joint family system is still alive in villages.  Older women, who live in semi urban situations/industrial townships also find it difficult to cope with old age, particularly after their children have grown up and husbands retire.


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