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India’s Modernization Fraying Extended Families

  • April 24, 2010

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As families grow more nuclear in India, nostalgia for the extended family has become a middle class obsession writes New America Media Editor Sandip Roy.

Here are some excerpts from his article:

Consider, for example, the recent five-handkerchief Bollywood hit Baghban. Yesteryear superhero Amitabh Bachchan plays an aging patriarch who is shuttled back and forth between his busy children. Unable to live with his wife any more, he steals tender moments with her secretly by telephone late at night.

Indians are graying, with 81 million over the age of 60. The population above 80, however, is growing fastest. By 2050, according to UN estimates, 48 million Indians will be over 80. Overall, Indians seem unprepared for the reality of how to integrate older generations into a more Westernized society where younger adults hold economic power and feel too busy with work demands to accommodate their parents.

“Until the 90s, there was strong family support,” says Premkumar Raja, secretary of Nightingales Medical Trust in Bangalore, which provides medical services for elders. “Elders were taken care of in the family. But with globalization the joint family system is breaking.”

Adults hemmed in by the pressures of work and raising their own children show signs of stress that reach dangerous levels: cases of elder abuse and neglect have been on the rise. Despite these problems, however, elder advocates say the solution is not an old age home in every district or more western-style retirement communities. Premkumar Raja at Nightingales Trust says what India needs are more day care centers. “We don’t want to separate elders from their families.”

Jai Prakash agrees that keeping parents and children together is important. Children who may not live with their parents can often live near them, she says, perhaps upstairs in a separate flat. Sometimes parents now live with their married daughters, once a major social taboo. “New forms of family are emerging,” Prakash observes. “You can’t really write the obituary of the Indian extended family just yet.”

These developments in India have important ramifications not just for families there, but for families throughout the global workforce.  As I argue in The Inclusion Paradox, employers need to play a role in supporting sustainable family structures in our upside down world. Offering workers flexibility can not only help reduce family stresses such as these, but make for less distracted, and more productive, employees.

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