New data rubbishes population doomsday scenario

Population experts have said that while India’s large population presents challenges in providing food, housing, jobs and other essentials, the country has entered a demographic stage when a plateauing of population and a subsequent decline in numbers is just decades away
By Manoj R Nair | Hindustan Times
PUBLISHED ON JUL 07, 2019 11:27 PM IST

A campaign for a national population law, which has predicted a doomsday scenario for the country, with its population growing to catastrophic numbers, has been endorsed by thousands of social media users. A Member of Parliament has drafted a proposed law for the country that seeks to restrict the number of living children per person to two, one year after the bill becomes law. The doomsday predictors seem to be unaware of the unprecedented demographic changes the country is going through.

Population experts have said that while India’s large population presents challenges in providing food, housing, jobs and other essentials, the country has entered a demographic stage when a plateauing of population and a subsequent decline in numbers is just decades away. The recently released Economic Survey 2018-19, backs this view and shows why India may not need a population law or coercive rules to control its population.

Data from World Bank, quoted in the survey shows that India reached a Total Fertility Rate ( TFR ) – the number of children per woman - of 2.3 in 2012 when its per capita income was US$ 5000 (at PPP, or Purchasing Power Parity where the value of goods and services a dollar buys in a country, and not the exchange value of the country’s currency vis-à-vis the dollar, is taken into account). The United States reached this fertility rate in 1970 when its per capita income was $25,000. The fertility levels in France and Australia dropped to this level later during the decade when per capita incomes in these countries were around $20,000. European countries like Austria, Italy and Belgium reached this demographic stage when their incomes were between $ 10,000 to 15,000.

Demographers have linked population growth in societies to income levels. So it is commendable that India brought down its fertility rate to this threshold at much lower levels of income. In Asia, only Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand have done better than India, reaching this figure at a lower income level. China achieved this fertility rate in 1990 when its per capita income was much lower than India’s in 2012 but China is not comparable because it has used coercive means – including restricting couples, except those from minority ethnic groups, to just one child.

The economic survey says that in 13 of the 22 major states TFR is below 2.1, meaning that these states, including those in the south, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and Maharashtra are already quite advanced in their demographic transition, mirroring trends in countries with much higher levels of income. These trends include a TFR well below replacement level fertility, population growth mainly due to momentum – high population growth in the earlier decades mean that there are more people in the reproductive age now; and growth in the proportion of older people and a decline in the percentage of population below the age of 20. TFR of 2.1 is known as replacement level fertility when a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next. The survey says that India may already be close to replacement rate - though for not for a laudable reason – because of its skewed sex ratio. The TFR is expected to reach 1.8 in 2021 – similar to the current rate in France – and stabilise at 1.7, the stage where China, which is heading for a population decline, is now.

States already below replacement level fertility will see a further decline to decline to 1.5-1.6. The survey estimates that the large poorer states of central India, like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh are likely to reach TFR levels below 1.8 between 2021 and 2031.

Other statistics from the survey reveal the rapid changes in the country’s demographics. Some states like Tamil Nadu could witness population declines after 2031 unless there is migration from other states. India currently adds around 10 million people annually to the working age population; this increase is likely to decline to 4.2 million in 2031-41.

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