India beats China in population war – Part III

India beats China in population war – Part III

Recent reports indicate that India has raced past China in terms of population growth. Yet, control measures worked well for India although challenges still exist

Despite all shortcomings, India has credibly managed a healthy demographic transition. Successful implementation of family planning measure was a huge challenge in a newly formed democracy anyway – especially in a nationthat was poor and where education was limited to the exclusively privileged class. Yet, India contained a population explosion much better than a lot of other nations that could only achieve this after attaining higher literacy and greater wealth.

Well-managed control measures

India launched its official family planning programme in 1952, although a national population policy was drafted only in 1976.China – also a predominantly rural and generally more uneducated and poor nation compared to India – didreduce its population growth rate by about half from between 1973 and 1983, but that was mostly achieved in contravention of democratic rights.Interestingly, East Asian countries like Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailandlowered fertility levels, infant and maternal mortality, and improved human development earlier than India – although they had started population control programmes much later.

Over the first fifty years of its independence, India saw a rapid population growth of nearly 2% per year –death rates declined,and standard of living improved as incomes went up. Since 1947, more than a billion people have been born, and population is expected to grow for 40 more years. However, India’s population growth rate has been declining for decades now, and it is almost certain that the country no longer stands in the fear of a population explosion – something that has been prophesied for long.

Image:World Total Fertility Rates at 2021;
Data credit:US Census Bureau; Image credit:India Today Group

A growing economic wellbeing and access to healthcare and education allowed Indian women to make the right choices that lowered the birth-rate, effectively flattening the growth curve. Fertility rates in India have recently dipped just below replacement levels (two births per woman – sufficient to maintain the population steady) in 17 of its 22 states and union territories.

Looking ahead

However, certain challenges could neutralise the demographic advantage. Estimates from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) revealsthat only 40% of India’s working-age population are actually employed or are willing to work. Ample job opportunities need to be consistently created for the young working-age population to make the most of the demographic dividend. CMIE data from October 2022 further shows that only 10% of working-age women are actually employed.For China, this figure stands at 69%.

Migration is another grey area. India has at least 200 million migratory labourers who float within the country. However, government has no reliable data or action plan to utilise this vast workforce, as was evident during the time of the pandemic. Providing migrant workerswith decent opportunities and standards of living can push up their contributions to the economy.

Getting ahead of China, can bring along certain unforeseen advantages. Just a random example: It could strengthen India’s claim of getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Currently, the Council has five permanent members, including China. As a founding member of the UN, India can now claim a permanent seat based on the strength of numbers.

As things stand now, 47% of Indians are below 25 years old,and66% of Indians were born after the economic liberalisationhappenedaround 1992. This generation is currently pushing ahead the knowledge economy – both asconsumers as well as producers. They are set to make India the largest pool of global talent.


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