7 PM | The country’s population can be an asset: it is not a liability | 13th September, 2019

Context: India’s population – assent not liability.

More in news: Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day last month, said that rapid population growth—described as a “population explosion”—posed a formidable challenge to our future.

Population explosion:

  • Population explosion refers to the rapid and dramatic rise in world population that has occurred over the last few hundred years.
  • Between 1959 and 2000, the world’s population increased from 2.5 billion to 6.1 billion people.
  • According to United Nations projections, the world population will be between 7.9 billion and 10.9 billion by 2050.
  • In Indian context, the population of India was around 361 million during the census of 1951. It reached over 1.21 billion during the census of 2011.

Primary Reason of Population Explosion in India:

  • Family health, child survival and the number of children a woman has are closely tied to the levels of health and education.
  • Poverty: The poor tend to have more children because child survival is low, son preference remains high, children lend a helping hand in economic activity for poorer households and so support the economic as well as emotional needs of the family. This is well known, well understood and well established.
  • Low wealth: As the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) notes, women in the lowest wealth quintile have an average of 1.6 more children than women in the highest wealth quintile, translating to a total fertility rate of 3.2 children versus 1.5 children moving from the wealthiest to the poorest.
  • Illiteracy: Similarly, the number of children per woman declines with a woman‘s level of schooling. Women with no schooling have an average 3.1 children, compared with 1.7 children for women with 12 or more years of schooling. This reveals the depth of the connections between health, education and inequality, with those having little access to health and education being caught in a cycle of poverty, leading to more and more children, and the burden that state control on number of children could impose on the weakest.
  • Decrease in infant mortality rate: An improvement in medical science and technology, wide usage of preventive drugs (vaccines), has reduced the infant mortality rate. There has been great improvement in medical and health-care facilities during the past few decades.
  • Increase in life expectancy: Due to improved living conditions, better hygiene and sanitation habits, better nutrition, health education, etc. the average life expectancy of human population has improved significantly. Steady supply of good quality food make sure that the population is well nourished. Populations grow when they are adequately nourished.
  • Increased immigration: An increase in immigration often contributes towards population explosion, particularly in developed countries. It happens when a large number arrive at an already populated place with the intention to reside permanently.

India’s Demographic transition (Economic Survey 2018-19):

India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades. Although the country as a whole will enjoy the ―demographic dividend‖ phase, some states will start transitioning to an ageing society by the 2030s. The age distribution, however, implies that India‘s working-age population will grow by roughly 9.7mn per year during 2021-31 and 4.2mn per year in 2031-41.

Demographic Trends:

  • The average annual rate of population growth, which was 2.1% in 1951-1971 and 2.2% in 1971-1991, dropped to 1.8% in 1991-2011 and 1.3% in 2011-2016.
  • Birth rates (per 1,000 population) dropped from 37 in 1971 and 29 in 1991 to 22 in 2011 and 19 in 2016, while fertility rates (births per woman) dropped from 5.2 and 3.6 to 2.4 and 2.3, respectively.
  • As per the NSSO Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, India‘s labour force participation rate or the age-group 15-59 years is around 53 per cent (80 per cent for males, 25 per cent for females). Depending on the trajectory of labour force participation during 2021-41, additional jobs will need to be created to keep pace with the projected annual increase in working-age population of 9.7 million during 2021-31 and 4.2 million during 2031-41.
  • At the other end of the age scale, policy makers need to prepare for ageing. This will need investments in health care as well as a plan for increasing the retirement age in a phased manner.

Projections of Economic Survey (2018-19):

  • The average annual population growth in India will slow progressively to 1.1% during 2011-2021, 0.7% in 2021-2031 and 0.5% in 2031-2041.
  • The fertility rate will drop to 1.8 in 2021 and 1.7 in 2031.
  • It is worth noting that the natural replacement level fertility rate is 2.1, which means that an Indian woman would have to give birth on an average to 2.1 children for the population size to remain constant.
  • In India, given the sex ratio, with more men than women compared to the natural level, the replacement rate would need to be higher.

Future scenario:

  • India’s population will continue to grow (at progressively slower rates), because of the relatively high proportion of young people in our population.
  • The silver lining is that the number of working-age people (20-59 years) and their share in total population will continue to increase for more than two decades and peak at 59% in 2041.
  • For low-income countries, where a significant proportion of the population is underemployed, a large population that is expected to increase further is a potential asset rather than a liability.
  • The high proportion of young people in the population will mean an increase in our workforce, more so, if a higher proportion of women enter the workforce.
  • It will also mean an increase in savings rates for some time, as young people save while the old do not. This source of economic growth will not be available to many Asian countries for long, as their workforce contracts, so that they would have to rely on productivity increases to sustain growth. 

Conclusion: Large population can be a source of rapid economic growth, which could bring about a profound change in the well-being of people. However, we can harness the demographic dividend only through education that creates capabilities among our people.

Source: https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/opinion-the-country-s-population-can-be-an-asset-it-is-not-a-liability-1568313646428.html

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