India to be the most populous by 2027:
- The United Nations recently released the 26th revision of World Population Prospects.
- It forecast that India will overtake China as the most populous country by 2027.
Demography and population polices meant India was destined to be the most populous:
- Population projections are developed using existing population and by adjusting for expected births, deaths and migration.
- For short-term projections, the biggest impact comes from an existing population, particularly women in childbearing ages.
- Having instituted a one-child policy in 1979, China’s female population in peak reproductive ages (between 15 and 39 years) is estimated at 235 million (2019) compared to 253 million for India.
- Thus, even if India could institute a policy that reduces its fertility rate to the Chinese level, India will overtake China as the most populous country.
Good news is the fertility decline in India:
- The projection of 2027 as the year India becomes the most populous comes as a surprise.
- In 2015, it was predicted that India would overtake China in 2022, but in the 2019 projections it is 2027 (UN revises its population projections every two years).
- The UN has also revised India’s expected population size in 2050 downward from 1.7 Billion in 2015 projections to 1.64 billion in 2019 projections.
- This is due to faster than expected fertility decline, which is good news by all counts.
Benefiting from the demographics:
- India will remain the most populous country throughout most of the 21st century.
- Whether we adjust to this demographic destiny in a way that contributes to the long-term welfare of the nation or not depends on how we deal with three critical issues.
Important population issues that will define our destiny:
- Population control cannot be forced in democratic India:
- For population control, almost all weapons that can be used in a democratic nation, have already been deployed.
- These include restriction of maternity leave and other maternity benefits for first two births only and disqualification from panchayat elections for people with more than two children in some States along with minor incentives for sterilisation.
- Hardly any incentives or disincentives are powerful enough to overcome the desire for children. Researchers found that individuals who wanted larger families either circumvented the restrictions or went ahead regardless of the consequences.
- Nudging people to have small families:
- As punitive actions do not seem to work, we must encourage people to have smaller families voluntarily.
- There are sharp differences in fertility among different socio-economic groups.
- Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for the poorest women was 3.2 compared to only 1.5 for the richest quintile in 2015-16.
- In India, it is a desire to invest in their children’s education and future prospects that seems to drive people to stop at one child.
- Thus, improving education and ensuring that access to good jobs is open to all may also spur even poorer households into having fewer children and investing their hopes in the success of their only daughter or son.
- Provision of safe and easily accessible contraceptive services will complete this virtuous cycle.
- Policies should look to maximize benefits from the future demographic windows of opportunity:
- We must change our mindset about how population is incorporated in broader development policies.
- Population growth in the north and central parts of India is far greater than that in south India.
- A move to use the 2011 Census for funds allocation by 15th Finance Commission will favour the north-central States compared to Southern States (who feel that they are being penalised for better performance in reducing fertility).
- However, continuing to stay with a 1971 Census-based allocation would be a mistake.
- Demographic dividend transition across states means Northern States will support Southern states in future:
- Demographic dividend provided by the increasing share of working age adults is a temporary phase that only lasts for 20 to 30 years.
- For States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, this window of opportunity is already past. Next, it will be open for moderate achievers such as Karnataka, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir. Even later, it will open for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other States that are the last to enter fertility transition.
- This suggests that workers of Bihar will be supporting the ageing population of Kerala in 20 years.
- We must invest in States with the next demographic window:
- In order to maximise the demographic dividend, we must invest in the education and health of the workforce, particularly in States whose demographic window of opportunity is still more than a decade away.
- This is because current laggards will be the greatest contributors of the future for everyone, particularly for ageing populations of early achievers. Enhancing their productivity will benefit everyone.
- Staying fixated on the notion that revising State allocation of Central resources based on current population rather than population from 1971 punishes States with successful population policies is shortsighted.
- It is time for India to accept the fact that being the most populous nation is its destiny.
- It must work towards enhancing the lives of its current and future citizens.