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Advantage young India until 2040

Population, said Malthus, has a tendency of pushing above the food supply. He saw factors like diseases, disasters and famines as "positive checks."

india Updated: Jan 22, 2006 23:40 IST

Population, said Malthus, has a tendency of pushing above the food supply. He saw factors like diseases, disasters and famines as "positive checks." The hypothesis implied that the rise in incomes or productivity would only heighten the mismatch between rising population and its requirement to be fed.

Malthusian prophecies have now come a full circle. Europe, where world's foremost population pundit lived 200 years ago, is facing a population bust rather than a boom despite abundant food production and some of the poorest nations are getting younger. The HT research team finds out in these columns that the flip side of the changing global demography puts many developing and underdeveloped countries ahead ­ and India on top ­ of a reverse trend.

The twentieth century saw the world swell from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion, raising the spectre of a population bomb ticking away. Doomsayers warned that the world was on the verge of breeding itself into oblivion. Today we know, through far more reliable methods, that population of over 60 advanced countries is shrinking while others are following the trend. It seems, now, that eventually Planet Earth would be less rather than more crowded.

The developed world has to pay the price in terms of declining productivity and mounting liabilities. Rising dependency ratios are altering social structures dramatically. Indian women too are having fewer babies (fewer than the American women had in 1950s) but at 3.0 their fertility rate is well above the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. The bulk of India's population growth is linked to its rural areas, particularly in backward regions, and that is where its biggest challenges lie.

Many East Asian countries are closely following the West but for now India and China buck the trend, as Saikat Neogi argues in the compilation of global trends below. China is slated to peak in 2015 while India peaks in 2040.

Falling dependency ratio has profound social implications for India, as Cooshalle Samuel shows in the next write up. Our opportunity would be our advantage if we sort out the basics, improve our human development indicators and keep this restless generation productive. In a thriving democracy, this open-minded and ambitious generation would soon determine its own destiny, as by 2016, more than 40 per cent of India's voters would have grown up in the era of liberalization.

A pitfall in population crystal ball gazing is that long-term predictions tend to get dicey. But shorter extrapolations, spread over 20 to 40 years, are accurate enough to predict the nature and requirement of future generations. Aloke Tikku goes through studies and reports brought out by the government, industry and think tanks to argue that the manufacturing will have to carry the burden of tackling India's unemployment. We have to get our priorities right and increase our share of the global manufacturing pie. The concluding report shows that the demographic dividend is nothing if our response is not time bound. India indeed is at the cusp of a radical renewal provided we understand our challenges.

* 33.9% will be India's young age dependency ratio in 2025 against world's 37.5%

* 65% is India's current literacy rate against 52.5% in 1991; current male literate rate — 75.85%, female — 54.16%

* 17 out of every 100 people in the world will be Indians by 2020 against 19 Chinese

* 71.6 years will be Indian's life expectancy in 2025 against 64.2 years now