Reclaiming our Glory
A large proportion of youth and our low dependency ratio can unlock the vision for a brighter future only if our youth rediscover their productive intent
In the last column, we discussed how India, even as early as 200 BC, used to account for more than one-third of the global GDP but was brought down to obscurity during the British era through a systematic predatory process. We are on the path to recovery, yet are far away from being the victors in this long and tiring battle. In this part, we take a deeper look at some of the demographic and psychographic trends to understand the path that we would be traversing in this journey.
During the British Raj, we not only missed the all-important Industrial revolution but also were used as a hunting ground to nurture the turnaround of the Western world. While, the Industrial Revolution raised their overall productivity, education and well-being, India languished as a backward agrarian economy. A higher birthrate was beneficial for the Indian families of that era since more hands would mean a marginal productivity rise in our farms. However, this population rise was disastrous to our national economy, since we were stuck in the double bind of high population and low incomes.
However, half a century down the lane, the wheel started to turn again. Demographically, as the rest of the world is ageing, India is in the pink of our youth. The average age of nations like Japan and Germany, who have been at the forefront of industrialisation, hovers around 50 years, while for India it is at an exuberant 29. Positively viewed, it means that India has a low dependency ratio, where majority of people are of working age supporting the dependent population. In other words, in the case of nations like Japan or Germany, a smaller set of the population works to support the dependents—the aged and the children. In the case of India, with a lower dependency, in theory, at least, we can claim a brighter future.
This is the second of a three-part series, analysing India’s demographics, education system and youth empowerment with a view to reclaiming our golden age
However, this vision of a brighter future shall be unlocked, only if, the youth has enough productive avenues and has an intent in being productive. However, when we see a reality diverged from this vision, it is easy to shift the blame on the former, the lack of productive avenues. But I would suggest the intent in being productive is more important than the first. In this decade, especially, there has been a large-scale churn in the psychographics of the youth across the world. According to ‘The Economist’ magazine, the youth of today behave and think differently from previous cohorts of the same age across the world. A much less proportion of youth end up trying mind-altering substances like alcohol, tobacco and drugs or get involved in juvenile or antisocial behaviour. They seem to be less hedonistic and break fewer rules than in the past. A possible explanation for this phenomenon could be that families are now comparatively smaller and hence average parents spend more time with their children, protecting them from harsh externalities.
Demographically, as the rest of the world is ageing, India is in the pink of our youth. The wheels OF fortune are turning, but it would not hand over to us any glory as an entitlement. Rather, we would have to work towards it. We have to keep walking ahead to discover solutions
At the same time, these changes have also resulted in altering family expectations and thereby blunting the intent to be productive that we spoke about earlier. Parents of today presume that their children would earn and do considerably better than they did and hence are more than willing to provide a safety net and long rope until they get the jobs they think they should get. Our newly passed out students come out with a sense of warped entitlement towards the salary that they should be earning and the type of work that they should be doing. I personally have heard several cases of youngsters leaving their jobs for the silliest reasons. For example, there is this young lady who quit her dream job in a multinational because her colleagues forgot her work anniversary. Then there was another gentleman, who decided to leave after a week, because he did not want to spend time getting trained, instead wanted to jump in head-on from the first day.
Meanwhile, I would like to add another interesting dimension to this increasing lack of productive intent. Our earlier generations of the youth had the demon of boredom to fight with, as they sat at home or at the crossroads. There was nothing that could engage or entertain them, and hence many a time they would slip into the abyss laden with worries about their future. Nowadays, technology has managed to jostle out boredom almost permanently from our lives. Information, communication and entertainment are at your beck and call. Youth are now relying on social media as an alternative therapy, keeping them away from real-life situations – a job being one of them. It’s an interesting predicament. As the families are getting closer and bonds are getting deeper, our youth lonelier than ever before, they are farthest away from real challenges.
The wheels of fortune are turning, but it would not hand over to us any glory as an entitlement. Rather, we would have to work towards it. Our large proportion of youth and our low dependency ratio can unlock a vision of a brighter future only if our youth rediscover their productive intent. Unfortunately, it’s a dark and narrow alley laden with challenges. Turning back or staying in one place are not choices. We have to keep walking ahead to discover solutions. We shall discuss that in the next part.
(The writer is an acknowledged leadership thinker from the Harvard and LSE. He was a contributing editor for Forbes and Economic Times)