China, India population: Implications of slowing dragon, racing elephant

Source: The post is based on an article “China, India population: Implications of slowing dragon, racing elephant” published in The Indian Express on 22nd November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 1 – Population

News:  China will for the first time register an absolute decline in its population in 2022 whereas India’s population is expected to surpass China in 2023.

What are the factors responsible for change in the population?

There are two main factors – Mortality rate and Fertility rate.

Reduction in mortality rate leads to a rising population whereas a decline in fertility rate slows down population growth.

Mortality rate has fallen due to increased education levels, public health and vaccination programs, access to food and medical care, and provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in both nations.

The Crude Death Rate (CDR) has fallen from double digit to single digit for both countries and in 2020 it was 7.3-7.4 for both nations. Life expectancy at birth has also increased for both nations.

However, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has fallen for India in the last three decades (Chart 1). It came down from 3.4 to 2 between 1993-93 and 2019-21. It implies that India has reached replacement-level fertility.

A TFR 2.1 is considered as replacement-level fertility. It means that two new lives are born to replace parents. However, India’s population is still increasing despite the low level of TFR.

Why is the population still increasing?

It is because in order to reduce population growth, the TFR should be below replacement level which is not the case with India.

For Example, China’s TFR fell below replacement first in 1991 and it took over 30 years for below-replacement fertility rates to translate into negative population growth.

How is population decline a concern for China and increasing population advantage for India?


China’s declining population became a cause of concerns due to the decline in the working age population. China officially ended its one-child policy from 2016.

The working age population is useful for economic growth but a fall in the working age population results in less labour force required to look after the aging population with low economic growth.


India has just begun seeing fertility rates fall to replacement levels including in rural areas. India will achieve below replacement level of growth about 40 years from now even though it is seeing decline in fertility rate.

The share of the working age population is expected to peak in the mid-2030s. Therefore, India has an opportunity in the coming years to utilise its demographic dividend like China did from the late 1980s until up to 2015.

However, creating jobs that promote growth outside agriculture will remain a challenge for India as agriculture accounts for a large workforce in India (Chart 3).

Therefore, India needs to create job opportunities in manufacturing and modern services that employ its workforce and benefit its economic growth.

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