A youthful, migrant workforce takes root in an ageing Kerala


Kerala, ageing faster than any other state in the country, is simultaneously adding a young migrant population at a pace that has started to rewrite its demography.

Till last count, Kerala had 25 lakh migrant workers alongside its 3.33 crore citizens. The former are growing at 10 per cent a year, most of them are men, and three of every four are aged under 30, according to a state government study conducted by the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation (GIFT).

The demographic transition of Kerala's own population, on the other hand, outpaces the rest of the country by 25 years, according to the Planning Commission's Kerala Development Report for 2008. A state with high mortality and high fertility is transforming into one with a low count on both fronts. Several factors are contributing to this ageing — migration of the young out of Kerala, family planning, and return of the elderly to their homeland.

By the middle of the century, over a quarter of the state's indigenous population would be above 60, according to a study by Prof S Irudaya Rajan, an analyst on demographic transition and migration. Among the next four decades, 2011-2021 would see the highest growth of the elderly population.

"In the near future, a very explosive demographic situation will arise in Kerala," said GIFT director Dr D Narayana. "A large majority of the host population will be 40-plus while the migrant population will dominate the other segment of the population, which is young and working. These workers will be able-bodied men; the number of women in the migrant labour force is very limited. These workers will keep the state's economy moving, while a number of people in the host's population would be beyond working age."

In Prof Rajan's view, the migrant workers have stepped in to "fill the void" left by emigrants out of Kerala. State Planning Board statistics of 2011 put Keralites migrating abroad at 22.8 lakh, and those working in other states at 10 lakh. Rajan said migration out of Kerala will come down from 22 lakh to 18 lakh within the next 10 years due to the decline in the young population at home.

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