population explosion

India is set to become the world’s most populous country by 2024. But is it ready?

India needs to fill the gaps in public healthcare, improve its sex ratio and infant mortality rates and address family planning concerns to sustain its growth.

By 2024, India will slip past China to become the most populous country and must rapidly prepare for a fast-changing economy.

India will likely hold that rank throughout the 21st century. Its population is 1.34 billion, nearly a fourfold increase since independence 70 years ago. China’s population, at 1.41 billion, roughly doubled over the same period. The pace of India’s population growth, now at 15 million per year, is the world’s largest. The two nations alone have more than a billion people and their population gap is projected to widen to 500 million by 2100. By comparison, the third and fourth most populous countries in 2100, Nigeria and the United States, are projected to have populations of nearly 800 million and 450 million, respectively.

Global growth: India is on track to be the world’s most populous nation (Source: UN Population Division medium variant projections)
Global growth: India is on track to be the world’s most populous nation (Source: UN Population Division medium variant projections)

Fertility factor

The long-term growth of India’s population, largely a function of fertility rates, is less certain. UN population projections indicate a range of possible scenarios. For example, if India’s current fertility of 2.3 births per woman remains constant, its population would grow to 1.8 billion by 2050 and 2.5 billion by 2100. Even under the instant-replacement fertility variant, with the country’s fertility assumed to fall immediately to 2.1 births per woman, India’s population would reach 1.9 billion by the century’s close.

The frequently cited UN medium projection assumes Indian fertility will decline to below replacement by 2035 and remain at 1.8 births per woman in subsequent decades. As a result, India’s population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060 before declining to 1.5 billion by 2100. The low projection assumes more rapid fertility decline to well below replacement level – about 1.3 births per woman – resulting in India’s population peaking at 1.5 billion around 2040 and falling to 900 million by 2100.

While India’s fertility has declined to about half the level of the late 1980s, that trajectory may not continue. In the past eight years, contraceptive use fell by almost 35%, as abortions and use of emergency pills doubled. More specifically, reliance on oral birth control pills fell 30%, reliance on condoms declined by 52% and vasectomies by 73%. This year, the Health Ministry launched a campaign to expand use of modern contraception with a focus on population stabilisation in 146 high-fertility districts across seven states. With India’s contraceptive prevalence rate at 52%, abortion has become a “proxy contraceptive” for many women, especially those from poorer households.

For decades, India relied on female sterilisation as the primary contraceptive method, funding about four million tubal ligations annually, more than any other country. In 2016, the government took major steps towards modernising that system, introducing injectable contraceptives free of charge in government facilities.

A relatively young age structure also contributes to India’s population growth. The median age in India is 27 years, compared to 38 years for China. Children under age 18 account for one-third of India’s population as compared with one-fifth of China’s.

However, due to fertility declines to near replacement levels, India’s population is also aging. The proportion of elderly aged 65 years and older is expected to double to 13% by 2050, and the number of working-age adults per elderly person is projected to fall from 11 to five.

India has achieved notable progress in reducing mortality rates. Life expectancy at birth increased from 44 years in the mid-1960s to 68 years today. India’s child mortality rate at 38 per 1,000 births still lags behind China’s rate of 11. Early marriage and pregnancy still contribute to excessive maternal deaths, and life expectancy of Indian women is eight years less than their counterparts in China.

Taking turns: Individual choices and government policies influence population growth (UN Population Division)
Taking turns: Individual choices and government policies influence population growth (UN Population Division)

Skewed sex ratio

India and China, unlike most other nations, have significantly more males than females. In both countries, infant mortality was higher for females than males in the 2000s. Skewed sex ratios are due in part to use of prenatal ultrasound scanning to abort female fetuses. The practice of sex-selective abortion, while prohibited, is difficult to eliminate. In coming decades, number of “surplus males” who can’t find brides in India could reach 40 million by some estimates. Contributing to son preference: expected care for elderly, traditional departure of daughters to husbands’ households after marriage and expectations for a bride’s parents to pay a dowry to prospective in-laws.

Such traditions linger in India, where the population is predominately rural in contrast to China’s urban population of 57%. Urban populations generally transition more rapidly to lower fertility rates.

India’s rate of urban population growth is expected to climb, partly due to migratory flows, especially youths seeking jobs. By mid-century, half of India’s population, about 830 million people, is expected to be urban dwellers, which will challenge government capacities to provide basic services and infrastructure. About one-fifth of the population lives without electricity.

Big if: India’s population may vary by as much as 1.5 billion by the end of the century, depending on whether the fertility rate falls to 1.3 children per woman or remains at the current 2.3 children (Source: UN Population Division, 2017)
Big if: India’s population may vary by as much as 1.5 billion by the end of the century, depending on whether the fertility rate falls to 1.3 children per woman or remains at the current 2.3 children (Source: UN Population Division, 2017)

Healthcare challenges

Healthcare also lags, with about half of Indian children reported to be undernourished. About two-thirds of them are immunised for diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus, compared to nearly all in China. Tuberculosis in India accounts for over a quarter of reported new cases worldwide, the highest of any country. Another public health challenge: the lack of sanitation facilities for more than half of India’s rural population

More than half of India’s population lives in areas vulnerable to calamities such as earthquakes, floods, cyclones, droughts and tsunamis, and the government continues to develop early-warning systems and promote community preparedness.

International migration plays a negligible role in India’s population growth. Nevertheless, India has the largest emigrant population, with approximately 16 million Indians living abroad and millions more planning to emigrate. India is the world’s largest remittance recipient, receiving on average close to $70 billion annually in recent years. The country implements strong enforcement measures to prevent illegal entry of immigrants, especially from Bangladesh.

Despite high rates of economic growth, forecast to exceed 7% for 2017, the benefits do not trickle down to most Indians. Despite India’s relatively large middle class, many struggle to secure basic daily needs. About 25% of Indians live on less than $2 a day and the country accounts for one in three of the global population living in poverty.

India struggles to create enough jobs for its growing working-age population. Over the coming two decades, the working-age population is projected to increase by more than 200 million. Over 30% of Indians aged 15 to 30 years are neither in employment nor in education and training, more than double the OECD average and nearly three times that of China. At the same time, Indian businesses report shortages of qualified skilled workers. In addition to its efforts to making labour regulations friendlier for job creation, the government must invest in education and vocational training.

Wary about automation and new technologies transforming workplace productivity and redefining the role of workers, education and business leaders recommend a major rethink of curricula and university training programs. India ranks sixth in publications on AI research, between 2011 and 2015, but lacks strategic policies.

India accounts for more than one-sixth of humanity. If the nation’s fertility rates remain unchanged, the population may double to 2.5 billion by 2100. Even if replacement-level fertility were achieved today, the population would still reach nearly 2 billion by 2100. The government must emphasise family planning while improving public health and the status of girls and women – or be hard-pressed to sustain high rates of economic growth and meet mounting aspirations of its billion-plus inhabitants.

This article first appeared on Yale Global Online.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.