Demography can tell us a lot about the future. Economists are confident India is well-positioned for years of strong economic growth because of the huge working-age population. But demography doesn’t just give clues about economic growth; it can also help futurists like me predict what trends could be on the horizon. Young populations are generally more open to technology, more inclined to question their place in the world and more likely to try out new ideas and fashions, and this makes young countries and ageing countries different. But not every young country is guaranteed to give birth to trends that could change the world. The potential for innovative trends in Indian cities relies on how the population will react to social, economic and cultural developments in the future.
Looking at the shape of India’s cities today, I believe the potential for innovations in mobility trends over the next ten years is high, because of three important factors.
The urban mass: Although per capita GDP in India today is equivalent to levels in China in 2005, that’s where the similarities end. In India, an increase in consumption is expected to come from people in cities earning on average $2,500-5,500 per year—a group known as the urban mass. This contrasts with China, which was propelled by an urban middle class earning in the region of $11,000 per year and above. As a result, consumption habits are likely to be different in India, but what trends are likely to take hold is hard to guess. There are some clues. Urban mass is not particularly wealthy, so consumption is likely to be driven more by concerns about quality and value. Significant growth in the luxury market will likely be limited, as consumers in this bracket are less inclined to shop aspirationally than the urban middle that propelled consumption in China. If urban mass is paying more for a brand, they will expect commensurate improvements in quality/functionality. A focus on value for money and consumer choice could mean a shift in the way people relate to automobiles and transport. Buying a car is still relatively expensive, but often the preferred option for commuting. Over the next decade, a combination of flexible mobility solutions is likely to develop.
Unique challenges of Indian city life: Transport infrastructure in cities lags behind population growth, leading to some of the worst traffic jams on earth. Cities provide more job opportunities, but often increased earning potential is cancelled out by high cost of living. Additional stresses like these could be why 55% of Indian millennials report feeling anxious. When the state of mobility in a city amplifies life’s stresses, then it is likely that the educated and tech-savvy population will start looking for alternatives that suit the local market. This is already beginning to happen, as seen in digital payments app Paytm, and in ride-sharing app Ola; Zoomcar has simplified car rentals.
Increased connectivity: Over 80% of young people have a mobile phone; 43% of these are smartphones. Internet access is still comparatively low; up to 64% young people report having no access to the internet according to a 2016 survey, but this figure is decreasing rapidly as smartphones become cheaper.
The impacts of this are likely to be huge. Urban mass will be more connected with the outside world than ever before, and this is likely to see young people adapting to habits that define city life for people globally. Consumption habits of middle class are changing, with urbanites choosing to spend more time in cafes, cinemas and restaurants. These pursuits are going to become popular as they become accessible to wider population. Because of this, Indian millennials are going to experience stark contrasts in their lives. As people place greater value on spending time well outside of work, the pain of driving to work on heavily congested streets will be amplified. As traffic worsens and alternatives to driving remain few, mobility choices are going to feel frustratingly restrictive to India’s millennials. Pain points like this, where the new expectations of modern life clash with the realities of the lived experience in the city, could be key catalysts that cause India’s millennials to radically rethink the city around them. This could result in new mobility services that are more responsive to the needs of modern city life. We can’t know exactly how millennials are going to react to the challenges that India’s cities will throw at them, but there are positive signs that the conditions for innovation are ripe.