It was a visit to a crowded Indian street that first led Paul Erhlich to devise his now disproven theories about the mass starvation of humans due to overpopulation.  Many still assume India to be an increasingly over-populated country with a high fertility rate.  However, that is simply not the case.  The Times of India recently reported that the fertility rate in Indian cities is now lower than that of the United States, Australia and France, stating:

Data from the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) on the total fertility rate (TFR) shows that since 2006 the TFR in urban areas has touched 2 children per woman and from 2010 has fallen below that level. That means there aren’t enough children born in Indian cities to replace the existing population of their parents.

The rural fertility rate of 2.5 is higher, but it too has declined steeply. The household size of urban areas and slums are also now similar (averaging about 4.7 people), with slum areas achieving a far more equal child sex ratio (probably due to less access to ultrasound technology).

The Times of India also reported this month on a growing infertility problem, reflecting on whether India’s family culture is being threatened by low birth rates:

In our country, where parenthood is considered the true indicator of a happy married life, infertility is becoming a grave concern for many. It is a growing concern and research suggests that it has gone up by 20-30 per cent in the past five years.

Family culture in India follows a patriarchal structure wherein generations of a family often live under the same roof.  Traditionally, the older generation takes care of the younger, and then the younger generations repay the favour in turn.  For many Indians, sacrificing individualism for the collective interest is a strongly held value. 

Already an ageing population and lower fertility rates is causing concern about the dignity and happiness of the elderly in India.  Low fertility rates and the weakening of family structures could threaten the support systems and family values so many Indians both hold dear and depend on.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...