India is about to overtake China as the world’s most populous country (if it hasn’t already done so). With around 1.4 billion people and a population density of nearly 400 people per kilometre, one often associates population explosion with Indian demographics. Indeed, the sight of India in the 1960s was one of the major influences on Paul Ehrlich’s influential and wrong book The Population Bomb.
However, these associations that we hold between rapid population growth and India may have to give way to new associations in the years ahead. According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) numbers for 2018 (based upon a broad sample of births and deaths recorded throughout the country) 13 of India’s 28 states and 8 union territories now have a total fertility rate (TFR) at the below replacement rate (of 2.1 children per woman). This means that the population will start to fall in these states unless the fertility rate improves.
Overall, the Indian TFR is sitting just above replacement (around 2.2-2.3) with seven states sitting around the replacement level and eight above 2.1. The rapid decline in the Indian TFR (it has dropped by nearly 40 per cent in the last twenty years) has been due to the nation’s higher literacy rates, particularly among women as well as general socioeconomic progress and access to contraception.
As the fertility rate has declined and the life expectancy of Indians has increased, the population has slowly aged. The SRS figures show that the median age for India is now over 25 years for the first time and the proportion of the youth population is slowly declining. The National Pension System under which Indian workers fund their own pensions as they earn is designed so that an increasing elderly population will not overwhelm the state’s resources. This may prove to be extremely beneficial for the economic viability of the Indian state in the decades ahead. I can imagine a number of other countries in the world with much older populations wishing that they had something similar!