'Second innings': India's new-age seniors splurge on themselves, drive growth of silver economy

Both Honnatti and Kurien present a growing tribe of seniors who are driving the silver economy, pushing forward an array of services catering to this age group.
A senior couple staying at Ashiana Utsav, Lavasa, pose before venturing out to explore the city
A senior couple staying at Ashiana Utsav, Lavasa, pose before venturing out to explore the city

It’s a hectic workday for Mala Honnatti who has just returned from a 10-day mountaineering expedition in Ladakh. At her hostel in Shoolini University in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, this final year student is busy preparing for the last semester of her master’s in yoga and exploring her future career prospects.

Honnatti is indecisive whether to become a yoga teacher, a corporate trainer or conduct trekking expeditions. “My mind is buzzing with ideas. So many choices and so much to do,” she says. Honnatti may sound like another young person on the cusp of graduation, except that at 67 years, she is talking about her fourth career plunge.    

Till about two years ago, Prof CT Kurien, an eminent economist with several books to his credit, was leading a retired life in Bengaluru. But his daughters, settled abroad, were uncomfortable about their parents living without any assistance. At their insistence, Kurien and his wife moved to Irene Homes, a retirement home in Ernakulam in Kerala. “So far this has been one of the best decisions we took in recent times,” says the 90-year-old. He spends his day browsing through books at the library and meeting fellow residents. Twice a week, he attends a craft workshop where he makes artificial flowers. “It’s engaging and a new fun activity I learnt at this age,” he says.  

Both Honnatti and Kurien present a growing tribe of seniors who are driving the silver economy, pushing forward an array of services catering to this age group. So it’s no surprise that when the Association of the Senior Living India (ASLI) organised a three-day online conclave in partnership with Unmukt-The Senior Hub, a senior citizens’ platform, the largest turnout was for a session titled ‘Opportunities in the Silver Economy’. The market for the elderly has been buzzing. In November 2019, Tata Sky launched a specially curated television channel ‘Tata Sky Seniors’ with shows to empower seniors in subjects such as financial planning, health and wellness, digital education and relationship management. 

The services catering to seniors have been brewing for sometime now. The outbreak of Covid-19, however, has put forward an urgency both in demand and supply. “The pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for healthy living among the senior cohort of the country. The lockdown affected them at various levels and senior care has garnered utmost importance,” says Ankur Gupta, co-founder and chairperson, ASLI and joint managing director, Ashiana Housing.  

According to the India Ageing Report 2017 released by the United Nations Population Fund, the ageing population, currently at 12 crore in the country, will reach 30 crore by 2050. It will account for 20 percent of India’s population. According to a study published in The Lancet in October 2020, India has gained 10 years in life expectancy over the past three decades—from 59.6 years in 1990 to 70.8 years in 2019. The demographic brings with it novel challenges as well as opportunities for services catering exclusively to them. 

With increased longevity, spending power and shift in mindsets, golden agers form a fast-growing demographic for marketers. Senagers, or the 60-plus seniors, are in many ways like teenagers open to new avenues of consumption. For now, the spotlight is on them, both at the private and government level. In January, the Union Ministry for Health & Family Welfare released the Longitudinal Ageing Study of India (LASI) Wave-1. It is a first-of-its-kind full-scale national survey to provide base for national- and state-level programmes and policies for the elderly.

In October 2020, the ministry launched ‘Decade of Healthy Ageing’, aimed at bringing attention to issues related to the elderly. Last year, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment invited an expert group to submit recommendations on how to keep seniors productive. Startups are beginning to look at this demographic beyond the medical and senior living segments. Recruitment firms, dating sites, tech platforms—you name it, they have it.

Senior welfare is no longer the family’s responsibility. “The pandemic highlighted gaps especially for seniors who live alone. The importance of preventive and supportive care has emerged. There has also been an increase in demand for home-based services,” says Monimita Sarkar, founder, Unmukt-The Senior Hub. Recently, the platform started a programme where seniors can re-skill their peers and earn in the bargain. In other words, the silver economy, or a market catering to senior citizens’ needs, is inching its way up in India. 

Breaking Stereotypes

Last month, ‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan joined a political party. The news may have evoked mixed feelings about the 88-year-old technocrat’s decision to enter public life but for the ‘silvers’ the only point to note was how age shouldn’t be a deciding factor of working life.

According to a survey by Antara Senior Living, around 64 percent of seniors, aged 50 and above, want to continue working post-retirement for financial independence, mental peace, and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The debate over increasing the retirement age from the norm of 60 years has been an ongoing one for the past few years.

“If a person retires at 60 years of age, he is likely to spend the next 30 years in his or her post-retirement life. Planning for retirement funding in the absence of social security is becoming a difficult task especially in the context of decreasing interest regime from 14 percent in 2014, today bank fixed deposits fetch less than seven percent,” points out Col (retd) A Sridharan, founder of CovaiCare, a chain of retirement communities in Coimbatore, Mysuru, Bengaluru and Puducherry.

The issue of prolonged employment has been a continuing discourse with various state governments tweaking the age limit. Nations such as Japan and Singapore have discovered a mechanism of re-employment after retirement, a model now being adopted in India. “The change has started both from employee and employer end,” says AS Krishna, who handles the retirement business vertical at Bajaj Capital, a financial advisory firm. “I can’t imagine not working even for a single day. I wish to continue till my health and motivation permits,” says the 64-year-old from Delhi.

Krishna got his role in February through HUM Communities, an age-tech venture dedicated to creating job opportunities for seniors. The initiative was started in 2017 by Ramesh Vij, a 77-year-old technocrat from Delhi, to engage seniors in gainful employment through an online community. “Besides money, the guiding principle for any retiree to join back workforce should be how well he/she is taken to the role and how his/her time is utilised. Companies need to understand that retirees provide a wealth of experience and they cost less,” says Krishna. 

In 2019, when HUM did an all-India survey among seniors, 93 percent said they felt discriminated because of their age. “It’s quite unfair when someone who is willing to work and has the capability to excel is not offered a suitable opportunity on the basis of his/her age,” says Kritarth Malhotra, founding member, HUM. He explains how the previous generation of elders (born in the 1930s) had a different perception of retirement with joint families being the norm but the new generation (born in the 1960s) perceive old age as the time to kick-start a second innings. 

“Most of them are full of zest and are willing to work hard even after retiring to remain financially secure and independent for the rest of their lives,” says Malhotra. The pandemic has worked in favour for HUM Communities, which has grown 10-fold in the past year. “We have engaged over 200 senagers (senior teenagers) with over 180 companies across India,” he adds. The company regularly conducts skilling workshops in online marketing, financial management, nutrition and wellness to empower seniors for the gig economy. “Right now all our courses are online but we intend to take them offline soon,” says Malhotra.

Spending money to look good is another trend that’s catching up among the senior citizens. Facelifts, botox treatments, hair weaving are the most common among those over the age of 60.  Dr Syed Nazim Hussain, a Delhi-based dermatologist and hair transplant surgeon, sees anywhere between 200 and 300 patients a month looking for different beauty and hair treatments. At his clinic, patients opt for treatment for facial wrinkles, frown lines, crow’s feet. Also popular are derma fillers, mesotherapies, botox, energy-based laser to tighten skin and boost collagen. “The elderly wants to look and feel good. They are paying attention to grooming and beauty. What has worked in favour is the rise of noninvasive procedures with less down time,” says Dr Hussain, Founder of Royal Lush clinic. 

Independent Seniors

At 81, V Ramakrishnan leads a busy life. In the last two years, he has learnt how to play snooker, has become a music lover, reads more and is not worried about the daily grind. Ramakrishnan and his wife moved to Ashiana Housing’s senior living development on the outskirts of Chennai after a decade of toying with the idea. “When I first started thinking about moving to a senior home, my mother was still alive and living independently. She was against the idea due to social stigma,” he says.

Not without reason. For long, geriatric care used to be old-age homes run by charitable institutions. Even though nuclear families ceased to exist a long time ago, yet moving to exclusive senior facilities was considered taboo. The initial flux into such homes started with seniors whose kids lived abroad. They moved for security, medical assistance, and to escape isolation. “Slowly the mindset started changing. The pandemic has reinforced why we need such communities,” says Ramakrishnan. It was the charm of leading a busy life with his peer group that helped him take the plunge. “It’s not a place where you will sit and stare at the ceiling,” he adds.

A fun evening at CovaiCare
A fun evening at CovaiCare

The term ‘independent seniors’ has become a new demography due to the rise of nuclear families, increased life expectancy and children living across geographies. “Such seniors do not settle for traditional old-age homes as they prefer and can afford autonomy and the company of age peers in well-equipped retirement communities,” says Anuj Puri, Chairman, ANAROCK Property Consultants. He explains how in the last year, seniors living alone struggled for basics, managing without house help and anxious about existing and potential medical issues. “The need for homes in a setting where these factors are taken care of is now undeniable,” he adds.

Today, freedom and independence have become the biggest differentiators for a senager. 
“A senior living community is a place for seniors to live at, by choice, unlike an old-age home which turns out to be the last resort for them when they do not have someone to tend to their needs,” says Gupta of Ashiana Housing. Targetted at people with spending power, these living facilities require a capital investment ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore, depending on the size, facilities, and amenities provided. The monthly maintenance fee could start at Rs 4,000 and go up to Rs 60,000 depending on lifestyle expenses, including upkeep of the premises, gas supply, electricity expenses and other recreational activities. 

Another taboo that’s been slowly overcome is giving love and companionship a second chance. Be it Pune-based dating portal Happy Seniors or the Ahmedabad-based Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa (VMAS) offering matrimonial and live-in options. Hyderabad-based non-governmental organisation Thodu Needa and Chennai-based Vasantha Remarriage Services encourage senior citizens to meet like-minded people for matrimony. Thikana Shimla, an old-age home near Kolkata, and the online portal secondwedlock.com have been helping seniors to find companionship.

“Because of Covid-19, things have been slow but last month a 68-year-old couple got married in Baroda through us. We have received 350 new applications during the last six months. The pandemic has made singles realise the need for companionship,” says Natwarlal Govindbhai Patel, founder of VMAS, who has so far facilitated close to 200 marriages and 56 swayamvars through his NGO. 

Community and Care

Bhagirathi Eshwar feels like a youngster with a large joint family around her with whom she can share her joys and sorrows. Eshwar moved to Ashiana Shubham in Maraimalai Nagar, Chennai, from Jamshedpur when she was 57, the youngest in her retirement home. A former banker, single, and with a desire to settle in South India, she opted for Chennai. “My sister is settled abroad and I don’t want to rely on anyone. This is the best option for me—not by chance but by choice,” she says. Eshwar is into the stocks trading business and when not busy with markets or reading, she joins for Tambola or an Antakshari evening. Weekends are for movies at the facility.

“It’s like living in a resort with every need from housekeeping to food being taken care of with the added advantage of a large family around.” Today professionals have replaced family. Need has paved way for acceptability. In the last five years, several senior living projects have come up in cities, such as Coimbatore, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Chennai, Kochi, Pune, Bengaluru, to name a few. As per a research by ANAROCK Property Consultants, there is only a limited supply in this segment with 55 projects by top 12 players 60 percent in tier II cities and the remaining 40 percent in tier I cities. “Currently, there are approximately 20,000 units either operational, under construction, or in the planning phase. But the urban demand is for nearly 2,50,000 houses,” says Gupta. 

Care home is another specialised category that caters to seniors who need constant care due to medical issues. Last year, Antara Senior Living announced its plan to invest over Rs 300 crore across residences for seniors, care homes and care at home services. “Overall, the senior living industry is expected to multiply approximately 20 times in the next five to 10 years,” Gupta predicts. Until now, poorly skilled caregivers dominated eldercare. However, with the entry of tech-driven home, healthcare things have changed. When Bengaluru-based home healthcare startup Portea Medical launched in 2013, they knew that there had to be a bouquet of services exclusively for seniors.

The pandemic just reinforced the idea. “Portea Health Prime is an exclusive membership-based service for those above 65 years,” says Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical. Under the service, a personal health manager addresses all their healthcare needs and appointments. A doctor gets assigned and personalised wellness plans are offered. “A large number of elderly are independent and physically active, but they need support in emergency situations,” he adds.  

According to Dr Sehgal, the eldercare sector contributes more than $5 billion to the silver economy, and with the prevalence of home-based healthcare, the share will grow at an “impressive” rate. “There has been more than 100 percent rise in the number of elderly service seekers with Portea. The overall demand for home-based healthcare grew by over 300 percent since the pandemic,” he says. 

Digital Interface

For Hannah Joji, 65, socialising with like-minded people is an integral part of her day. Having lived in Dubai for 25 years, the shift to Pune four years ago wasn’t easy. In Dubai, she was engaged in various cultural and social activities. “But after moving to Pune, the initial few months were lonely. Then I came across Seniority while looking for something specific to shop. Their offline store had events and activities for us. It was a club, a shopping hub and an events platform all put together in one place,” Joji says. Seniority is a dedicated shopping destination for seniors with several thousands of products. 

In December, Seniority launched a members-only Evergreen Club, a web- and app-based platform that has skilling workshops, events such as Open Mic, and various activities, such as Tambola and Antakshari. “People above 55 years can e-meet like-minded people, socialise over various interests, take part in sessions and competitions or basically just hangout,” says Tapan Mishra, founder, Seniority. 
Seniors aren’t tech-averse anymore. Sarkar of Unmukt-The Senior Hub vouches for the transformation in the segment in the past year. In the pre-Covid world, the Gurugram-based startup held seminars, conclaves and exhibitions in various cities. A month into lockdown, and Sarkar and her team recreated an online version of their programmes.

“We are offering community learning resources and a specially-curated online store to meet their needs. We have also created a repertoire of knowledge capsules with blogs, discussions and interviews with professionals and experts across the globe on active ageing,” says Sarkar. In August, Unmukt conducted an interview with Daniel Lieberman, a popular paleoanthropologist from Harvard University. The same month an online interactive event with popular author Amish and a movie premiere was organised. 
The market for customised programmes for seniors is on an expansion mode.

Why else would a television channel be launched for them? “In this increasingly digitised world, elderly members of the family often feel a disconnect. So we wanted to come up with a customised service,” says Pallavi Puri, Chief Commercial & Content Officer at Tata Sky. Some of the popular programmes at Tata Sky Seniors include a daily segment Aap ka Saathi with health experts, a show called 2nd Innings that familiarises viewers with latest technology and provides financial guidance, travel and relationship management tips. “Our series Tab Aur Ab features yesteryear actor Tabassum and her granddaughter. They help viewers to bridge the gap between generations while talking about differences. We also have a series named Zindagi Ek Safar, a chat show with celebrities talking about a fulfilling post-retirement life,” Puri adds.

No Fine Balance

Although much is on offer in the elderly industry, it is mostly skewed in favour of those with ample spending power. Industry experts suggest increasing the retirement age, providing insurance for care services, and better financial products for silvers. Sridharan of CovaiCare wants a PPP model to come into place. “Around 71 percent of senior citizens live in rural areas. Of the 29 percent in urban areas, hardly two percent are inside the senior living and care communities operated by private players for the affordable class. This brings a gap which needs to be filled,” he says. 

There are a few government-sponsored programmes like the National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly that seeks to address preventive healthcare, management of illness, medical rehabilitation and therapeutic interventions among the elderly. Then the Draft National Policy for Senior Citizens 2020 is looking at bringing out affordable and accessible healthcare, financial security and tax incentives, skilling and workforce training and promoting and supporting senior care products. 

“The government also needs to consider various incentives like exempting GST for eldercare services, an overhaul of reverse mortgage rules and feasible medical insurance for senior citizens. The growing demand for senior care services in India can only be leveraged with appropriate regulations, tax structures and policy reforms,” says Sarkar. While the silver economy works on giving golden returns, experts argue for better policy and fund allocation. The wait continues for a new dawn in the twilight years. 

“My mind is buzzing with ideas. So many choices and so much to do.” 

Mala Honnatti, 67, final year master’s student in yoga, Shoolini University, Solan, Himachal Pradesh. 
She’s exploring her future career prospects, whether to become a yoga teacher, a corporate trainer 
or conduct trekking expeditions

50%  Senior Indians open to online shopping, says a 2020 Deloitte survey

300 million The number of seniors by 2050, according to the United Nations Population Fund

$7.7 bn  The expected size of the senior housing segment by 2030, according to a 2017 PHD Chamber of Commerce report

64%  Seniors want to work post-retirement as per a survey by Antara Senior Living in 2020

65%  Seniors choose leisure travel as a lifestyle spending preference, according to the Antara Senior Living survey 

Rs 2 crore to 8 crore - Cost of luxury senior living properties in cities as per ANAROCK Property Consultants 

At seniors' service

Seniority A shopping platform with over 10,000 products, including imported ones and in-house brands

Evergreen Club An app- and web-based platform, it offers 50 free sessions (yoga, doctor consultation, tambola, etc) to members every month

Covai Care Retirement homes across South India available on various lease options of five, 10 and 15 years

HUM Communities Recruitment portal for retirees

Thodu Needa Hyderabad-based NGO for matrimony

Unmukt-The Senior Hub Knowledge and shopping platform providing curated content and skilling workshops

Portea Premium plan includes doctor and wellness manager at your call

Happy Seniors A Pune-based dating community

Ashiana Housing Senior Living facilities in Bhiwadi, Pune, Chennai, priced between `35 lakh and `85 lakh.  

Tata Sky Seniors TV channel with shows on how to get vaccinated, mobile banking, wellness tips, popular serials, etc

“So far this has been one of the best decisions we took in recent times.” 

Prof CT Kurien, 90, who with his wife moved to a retirement home in Ernakulam, Kerala.
He spends his day at the library, and meeting fellow residents. Twice a week, he attends a craft workshop where he makes artificial flowers. 

“Last month, a 68-year-old couple got married in Baroda through us. We have received 350 new applications during the last six months. The pandemic has made singles realise the need for companionship.”

Natwarlal Govindbhai Patel, Founder, VMAS, who has so far facilitated close to 200 marriages and 56 swayamvars through his NGO

“Independent seniors do not settle for traditional old-age homes as they prefer and can afford autonomy and the company of age peers in well-equipped retirement communities.” 

Anuj Puri, Chairman, ANAROCK Property Consultants

“Portea Health Prime is an exclusive membership-based service for those above 65 years. A large number of elderly are independent and physically active, but they need support in emergency situations.” 

Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical

“The pandemic highlighted gaps especially for seniors who live alone. The importance of preventive and support care has emerged. There has also been an increase in demand for home-based services.” 

Monimita Sarkar, Founder, Unmukt-The Senior Hub, which has launched a programme where seniors can re-skill their peers and earn in the bargain.

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