Problem, solution, problem: India’s population will start to collapse in two decades. It’s a matter of celebration – and concern

News: Population growth is a function of fertility and life expectancy. India had about 1.38 billion (138 crore) people in 2020. Two recent studies estimate the country’s population to peak at 1. 5-1. 6 billion somewhere between 2040 and 2048. 

India’s population has been on a decline, and several figures point in this direction.  

Every year since 2003 the number of live births has been falling consistently. 

Fertility rate (average number of children born to a woman) came down to 2 – well below the world average in 2019.  

It took only 14 years for the fertility rate to fall by 50% (from 3 to 2) in India, whereas in Bangladesh – globally acclaimed for birth control – a similar fall took 17 years. 

What are the reason for these? 

Percentage of women marrying before the age of 18 has fallen by half in the past 15 years.  

Women participation in key family decisions have shot up from 37% to 89% in the past decade and a half. 

Urbanisation is another family size suppressor. In rural areas a child is a resource, a free labour to work on farms and tend to livestock. But in a city a child is a liability till adulthood. 

The higher cost of raising children also prevents middle and upper middle classes from having a big family. 

What can be the new set of challenges that can emerge due to this declining population trend? 

Compared to other countries with the same fertility rate, India’s infant mortality rate is higher and life expectancy is lowerThat means the coming fall in population could turn into a collapse.  

India is also home to the highest number of underweight and stunted children.  

The peak of India’s demographic dividend is already behind it. The prospect of India ageing before prospering to the levels of Western countries is real.  

It’s this fear that has caused China to abandon its draconian single child policy and encourage its youth to have more kids. India could be in a much worse situation than China as the productivity level in China are much higher than India. 

Can this trend be reversed? 

Policy persuasion does not help in convincing people to go for smaller or no families. 

The immediate task for India is to save more children at birth and ensure that they grow into healthy and educated adults. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Problem solution problem: India’s population will start to collapse in two decades. It’s a matter of celebration – and concern” published in Times of India on 3rd Jan 2022. 

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