The UN World Population Prospects Report and Population Issues in India – Explained, pointwise

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The UN World Population Prospects Report 2022 is the 27th edition of the official United Nations population estimates and projections. The Report has presented population estimates from 1950 to the present for 237 countries or areas, underpinned by analyses of historical demographic trends. This latest assessment considers the results of 1,758 national population censuses conducted between 1950 and 2022, as well as information from vital registration systems and from 2,890 nationally representative sample surveys. The Report estimates that India is set to replace China as the country with highest population. This has brought issues related to population back into focus.

What are the Key Findings of the World Population Prospects Report?

World Population: The world’s population continues to grow, but the pace of growth is slowing down. The global population is expected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. In 2020, the global growth rate fell under 1% per year for the first time since 1950.

World Population Prospects Report Population Growth UPSC

Source: UN World Population Prospects Report, 2022. Since 1975 the world has been adding another billion people every 12 years. 7 billion milestone was passed in 2011 and 8 billion will be crossed in 2022. While the rate of absolute growth is similar to previous decades, the growth rate continues to fall. As global fertility rates continue to fall, this rate will continue to fall.

Regional Variation in Rates of population growth: More than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries. This includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania. The 46 least developed countries (LDCs) are among the world’s fastest-growing.

Ageing Population: The population of older persons is increasing both in numbers and as a share of the total. The share of the global population aged 65 years or above is projected to rise from 10% in 2022 to 16% in 2050.

Working Age Population: A sustained drop in fertility has led to an increased concentration of the population at working ages (between 25 and 64 years).

International migration: For high-income countries between 2000 and 2020, the contribution of international migration to population growth (net inflow of 80.5 million) exceeded the balance of births over deaths (66.2 million). Over the next few decades, migration will be the sole driver of population growth in high-income countries. Migration could be driven by economic opportunities or security purposes.

Global life expectancy: It reached 72.8 years in 2019, an improvement of almost nine years since 1990. Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average global longevity of around 77.2 years in 2050. Yet in 2021, life expectancy for the least developed countries lagged seven years behind the global average.

Findings Specific to India: India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023. At present, India’s population is 1.412 billion compared to China’s 1.426 billion.

Comparison of India China UN World Population Prospects Report UPSC

Source: Our World in Data.

What are the projected trends of India’s Population?

The fertility rate in India has fallen substantially – from 5.7 births per woman in 1950 to just 2 births per woman today. As per National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5, all states (except Mizoram) have seen an increase in the use of family planning methods. Goa (42%) and Bihar (32%) have seen the highest increase in the use of family planning methods.

Consequently, most states have seen a decrease in the total fertility rate (TFR). However, some large States like Bihar (3.2) and UP (2.4) still have TFR much above the Replacement Rate. This is concerning as both States already have large population base. They’ll be the driving force behind India’s population rise in the coming decades. All other medium and large states in the survey (i.e., population above 1 crore) have a TFR below the replacement level rate of 2.1.

State-wise TFR in India UPSC

Due to a large proportion of younger population, India’s population will continue to rise (population momentum) for the next 3 decades before stabilizing in the 2060s. India is projected to have a population of 1.688 billion in 2050, much ahead of China’s 1.317 billion.

What are the opportunities created by a rising population?

First, a rise in the working age population creates an opportunity for accelerated economic growth per capita. This shift in the age distribution provides a time-bound opportunity for accelerated economic growth known as the “demographic dividend”.

Second, it helps in creating a consumption driven economy which is less dependent on exports for its survival. Such economy has the tendency to absorb global shocks in a relatively better way as seen in the case of India. The large domestic market is attractive to foreign investors. Consequently, it acts as a factor in attracting foreign investments in domestic economy.

Third, a rising population opens up prospects of emmigration to other countries which help in generation of additional forex reserves and also enhances a nation’s soft power in foreign lands. For instance, a significant portion of remittances are sent by the Indian Diaspora in the U.S to their families living in India.

What are the adverse implications of the current population trend in India?

First, India’s rising working-age population necessitates creation of large livelihood opportunities. In the absence of suitable employment opportunities, India’s demographic dividend may turn into demographic disaster e.g., a report by PwC had estimated in 2019 that India would need to create 100 million (10 Crore) jobs between 2020-27. It will put pressure on India’s economy to have productive capacity to create new jobs.

Second, India’s population is ageing due to rising life expectancy. This has enhanced the share of elderly population e.g., the share of population aged greater than 60 years was 12.6% for Kerala and 10.4% for Tamil Nadu in 2011. This is projected to increase to 20.9% and 18.2% respectively by 2031. Higher proportion of the elderly translates into a greater expenditure on healthcare and social security schemes. This would put a huge fiscal burden on the State exchequer and also reduce funds for creating capital assets. 

Third, a study has found that India might grow old before it becomes rich. This is because of failure to realize demographic dividend due to lower focus on education, lack of skilled manpower and lack of employment opportunities. China’s Labour Force Participation Rate is ~70% compared to ~43% in India.

Fourth, there are large inter-state disparities in population and growth rates. Rising population in some States will force out-migration into States will lower population and more developed economies. This might give rise social tensions with insider vs outsider debate. States are already reserving jobs for local population. Moreover, ageing States will rely on outside migrants to maintain their economic growth.

Fifth, the freeze on Parliamentary Constituencies will end in 2026 (Re-adjustment according to 2031 Census). States with rising population will gain more seats at the expense of States that have controlled their population. This will further add to inter-State conflict.

Sixth, high population raises anthropogenic footprint on earth. It puts high pressure on resources and also reduces their replenishment. Large population has posed challenges to the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

National Population Policy 2000 UPSC

How can the population rise be effectively managed?
Social Measures

Raising the Status of Women: Evidence shows that improvement in status of women through education and economic participation reduces TFR. 

Raising Age of Marriage: Fertility depends on the age of marriage. So the minimum age of marriage should be raised to 21 years.

Spread of Education: It helps change the outlook of people. It raises awareness about importance of family planning and birth control methods. Educated women are health conscious and avoid frequent pregnancies and thus help in lowering birth rate.

Economic Measures

Development of Agriculture and Industry: If agriculture and industry are properly developed, a large number of people will get employment. When their income is increased they would improve their standard of living and adopt small family norms.

Urbanization: TFR in urban and rural areas is 1.6 and 2.1 respectively (NFHS-5). Migration and urbanization tends to lower the birth rate. Hence, more employment opportunities and urbanization will help in reducing population growth rate.

Other Measures

Raising awareness about family planning, birth control methods, access to contraceptive methods can help in controlling population. Some experts argue that the Government can incentivize adoption of birth control measures. Monetary incentives and other facilities like leave and promotion can be extended to the working class which adopts small family norms.

Focus Areas for Population Policy UPSC

Should coercive methods be adopted to control population?

There are arguments for forcing people to adopt birth control measures. However, it is not advisable.

First, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and many other states have lowered the TFR and achieved a control over the birth rate without any coercive measures.

Second, coercive measures were adopted in the 1970s like forced sterilization, which had resulted in widespread disaffection against the Government.

Hence coercive population control measures may not achieve desired results and can cause unintended consequences.


To maximize the potential benefits of a favorable age distribution, India must invest in the further development of its human capital. There is a need to ensure access to health care and quality education at all ages and promote opportunities for productive employment and decent work.

Source: Indian Express, The Times of India, Down to Earth , The UN

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