Recent reports indicate that India has raced past China in terms of population growth. But is this a war worth winning? Let’s find out the implications in this two-part series
Of late, global media is awash with reports of India pipping China as the most populous nation in the world.It is one dubious distinction indeed, although it was predicted to happen for quite some time. However, analysts are of the opinion that it actually happened almost a decade ahead of expectations. They also estimate that this event is more a result of China’s population rate going on a decline, rather than India experiencing a boom in birth-rate. In fact, India’s population growth rate has slowed down significantly, yet China’s fall has been sharper. All in all, the United Nations World Population Review declared that while India’s population as of 18January 2023was 1.42 billion, China stood at 1.41 billion on that date.
A neck-to-neck race
For the first since the 1960s, China’s demographic numbers reported a fall of 850,000. The last time China officially declared a dip was during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ between 1958 and 1962. That was a tumultuous period for the communist country, when multiple economic and social upheavals caused famine and starvation deaths. This time, however, the primary causes are the effect of ‘one-child policy’ – the much-debated population planning initiative that China aggressively implemented between 1980 and 2015, their subsequent family planning campaigns which advocated ‘later, longer, fewer’childbirths, and of course the increasingly tough economic situation with ever-mounting costs of living.
Image source: India Today Group
Despite India’s population growth rateslowing down, the World Population Review estimates that demographic numbers will continue to rise for India till 2050, after which a dip is foreseen. A separate projection by India’s National Commission on Population has predicted a figure of 1.52 billion by 2036.
The UN World Population Reviewfurther calculates that from now till 2050, just eight countrieswill contribute to more thanhalf of the global population surge. These are Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania (listed alphabetically and not according to expected population contribution).The global population aged 65 and above is projected to rise from the current 10% to 16% in 2050.
Short-term gains for India
So, what can be the immediate implications of this demographic changes for the top twopopulous nations?The following trends emerge at a very high level:
- Experts think that India has just reached the replacement level of fertility. China, on the contrary, had reached that level nearly 20 years ago.
- Chinese authorities are now asking citizens to produce three children per family – a desperate call to stem the population decline.
- The manpower advantage so long enjoyed by China would shift to a still-growing India.
- As of now, India will enjoya much younger population structure compared to China.
- India’s60 plus population category is nearly half of China.
- 50% of India’s current population is under30, for China this is only around 35%.
- An ageing population is bound to slow down economic growth in China.
- As such, China has already reported negative growth for the first time in nearly 60 years.
- China could cut down production due to labour shortages, leading to multiple shifts in the global commodity market.
However, no country can enjoy demographic dividends forever, and so will be the case for India. Plus, this new demographics equilibriumbrings along several other factors that would have far reaching consequences. We will discuss them in our next episode.