The Bare And Simple Facts

Rama Bijapurkar / November 20, 2010


I thought of this story as I was looking at some really basic data, unembellished by any rocket science analytics. The data related to the two magical weapons that we think will annihilate all obstacles and take us to superpower glory. One is the demographic dividend and the other is middle class.

This column presents simple data with obvious takeaways on the demographic dividend from a 2009 survey by NCAER Centre for Macro Consumer Research (NCAER-CMCR) and pleads with policy makers for a segment-wise, targeted employment generation policy (not employment guaranteed through manual labour policy or even a sporadic skills development set of programmes, but a holistic policy that looks at what people we have, what they can do, what jobs need to be done/can be done, and how to fit the two). It also pleads for marketers to think about youth markets as beyond denim branded jeans and style-statement colas or clothes to the hopes, aspirations and desires of these consumers and how best to make them a part of the digital new age world - and yes, also to give them style-statement colas and denim jeans and stylish shoes that don't cost an arm and a leg. More than that, to talk to them and educate them in the broadest sense through IT platforms that are youth-attractive and so on. The next column will discuss the fabled middle class of India.

  • Let us define youth as 15 to 24-year-olds because they an important segment for immediate demographic dividends and also because they are socially the most precious for our stability and the kind of new-age society we hope to build. At this age, they are old enough to work because 16 to 18 is school closure time, because 24 is the outer limit for many, when you get ready to shoulder the responsibilities of grihasta, siblings, parents, and also for society you are at the peak of recency of education and maximum life energy.

    Also, let us forget percentages for now because they are falsely comforting. In India, even a small percentage is a large number, and needs targeted attention because of its damage potential.
  • In 2009, India is estimated to have 205 million, 15 to 24-year-olds: 139 million are rural and 66 million urban (all figures rounded off). If our demographic dividend is to not be frittered away, we can't wait to fix urban first, and experiment with a few rural BPOs, and skill development-cum- placement services. We have to do much more. To get a sense of perspective, even if we replicated the entire ITeS and insurance industries, the two most people-intensive businesses, in rural India, it would be a small blip in terms of jobs needed. That holds true even for urban India.
  • Of the 205 million 15 to 24-year-olds, 47 million (23 per cent) are illiterate, 39 million in rural India and 8 million in urban India. The urban Indian illiterate young can probably manage to get absorbed into various services, with self-help adult literacy classes, technology-enabled for them by the government and CSR, making them more productive, and enabling higher wages. But it's the 40 million illiterate young in rural India that we need to think about. What can they be made to do? Skill training for mechanics, drivers, small enterprise owners.
  • That leaves 158 million literate young: 37 million have primary education only, 109 million, secondary and only 13 million graduate-plus qualifications. The middle-of-the-road education story - what do we do with them?
  • Let's take the 20 to 24-year-olds. What do they do today? Twenty-two per cent are still studying and we need to find jobs for them. Twenty-four per cent are unpaid housewives. Only 14 per cent get a regular salary, and 5 per cent are self-employed in agriculture. The rest are casual labourers while about 8 per cent have no job at all. How do you graduate them into a new kind of more productive value-added labour? Gadgets?
  • Finally, let's take the 13 to 19-year-old literate youth. As many as 122 million are still largely rural, 38 million have stopped with primary education, but 43 million are in middle school and 26 million in matric. How do we hold on to them and make something out of them? The HRD ministry has a lot of innovative work to do

The writer is an independent market strategy consultant