The atoms and molecules that make up Indian society may look and act different, but at their core the family retains its salience
A Parsi family at a wedding in the late 19th century; INDIA PICTURE
How we live, who we live with and how we socialise has undergone a drastic change, but not always in predictable ways, in the past 75 years. In 1981, Indian families had an average size of 5.6 people—counter-intuitively, the highest since 1947, when it had been only 4.9. Since then, it was all nuclear proliferation. Average households now have 4.45 members. The share of joint families has dipped to 16 per cent. Today, families with two, one or no children are common; the preference for less offspring reflects in the national fertility rate too. India’s current figure of 2 children per person is lower than the global replacement rate of 2.1.
When it comes to personal habits—there has been a decline in both alcohol and tobacco use in the past 15 years, a result attributable to both government initiatives and growing public awareness. Instead, Indians are now adopting lifestyles that did not even exist back in 1947.
The internet and its services have brought massive changes post the 1990s. Today, the country is one of the world’s largest markets for food delivery, social media networks and app-based dating. On December 31, 2021, Swiggy and Zomato processed 4.5 million orders here, WhatsApp users number a humongous 530 million, and India offered dating apps their second largest revenue market after the US. More Indians are reaching for their phones to upgrade and enrich their lives—whether it is having an affair, sending a Diwali present or having a ‘movie party’ with friends in sundry locations, our social interactions today are nearly always part-virtual.
A man takes a photo of his wife and children; Getty Images
Despite the digitisation of society and changing household sizes, family remains an integral part of Indian society. The country still has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world—a mere 0.24 per cent of the married population compared to 2.7 per cent in the US. The structure of a family might be morphing but it still revolves around largely the same values of solidity.