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India to be world’s most populous country by mid-year: UN

Apr 19, 2023 02:54 PM IST

Experts said India’s young population in a consumer-driven economy will be a major factor in driving the country’s development

India is expected to be the most populous country by the middle of this year and overtake China, according to the latest data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The UNFPA report said 25% of India’s population is in the age group of 0-14, 18% in 10-19, 26% in 10-24, 68% in 15-64. (Reuters/Representative)

The UNFPA’s ‘The State of World Population Report, 2023’, titled ‘8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: The Case for Rights and Choices’ released on Wednesday said India’s population is projected to be 1,428.6 million while that of China’s 1,425.7 million, a difference of 2.9 million.

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The latest figures were given under the category of ‘Demographic Indicators’ in the report.

It will be the first time that India’s population will overtake China’s since 1950 when the UN began to collect and release population data.

Anna Jefferys, UNFPA’s media and crisis communications advisor, said China’s population reached its peak last year and started to decline. “...India’s population is growing; its rate of population growth has been declining since 1980.”

Jefferys said there is no perfect population number for either country, but more important is how India and China can support their populations.

The UNFPA report said 25% of India’s population is in the age group of 0-14, 18% in 10-19, 26% in 10-24, 68% in 15-64, and 7% above 65.

The corresponding figures for China are 17%, 12%, 18%, 69%, and 14%, which means the country has nearly 200 million above the age of 65.

China is doing better than India in the context of life expectancy, which in the case of women is 82 and 76 that of men. The figures for India are 74 and 71, according to the report.

Experts said India has a clear demographic advantage. “Its young population in a consumer-driven economy will be a major factor in driving the country’s development, and presents an enormous opportunity for the country’s economic growth,” said Andrea Wojner, UNFPA’s India representative.

“The country will not just enjoy an abundant supply of labour from this working age cohort, but the rising domestic consumption should help the nation tide over any external shocks, a fact well demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Chinese demography expert Huang Wenzheng said India’s advantage is that it is still growing even as it is slower than before. “...the key is not whether the total population of India has surpassed that of China but India now has more than twice as many new babies as China with a total fertility rate about twice as much as China’s, which means that India’s population will be much bigger than China’s in the long run,” said Huang, a researcher at the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation.

Huang said India has a much bigger demographic strength than China. “...it can be translated into comparative strengths on many other fronts as well if India can take advantage of it.”

India’s demographic diversity among states also provides unique opportunities to reap the benefits of demographic dividends. Different states are at various stages of demographic transition.

“For example, an ageing population in southern India can meet its labour demands from the greater proportion of the youthful population in the northern and eastern parts of the country through conducive policies on inter-state migration,” Wojner said.

China’s population decreased by 850,000 people in 2022, the first such decline since 1961. The number of births in China did not increase as expected since Beijing abolished the one-child policy and then allowed even three children. Primary reasons include rising costs of living, childcare, and education.

Overall, the UNFPA report called for a “radical rethink” of how population numbers are framed. It urged politicians and media to abandon overblown narratives about population booms and busts.

“Instead of asking how fast people are reproducing, leaders should ask whether individuals, especially women, are able to freely make their own reproductive choices – a question whose answer, too often, is no,” the UNFPA said in a statement released along with the report.

UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said women’s bodies should not be held captive to population targets. “To build thriving and inclusive societies, regardless of population size, we must radically rethink how we talk about and plan for population change.”

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