Large and Growing Population
India will be the world champion in population by 2022 beating its nearest rival, China. Today, it is home to around 1.28 billion people and as per 2011 census it added about 180 million people in 10 years since 2001 at the rate of 1.76% per year. Keeping aside immigration from neighboring countries, the annual organic growth rate is about 1.4%. It means each morning you wake up, India has grown by 49,000 the previous day; in other words, if you eat your lunch in half an hour, the population of the country has gone up by 1025.
Fifty years ago, average number of children a woman would have during her life was over 5, today it 2.3. The rate of decline has become faster in last 5-7 years. Though the population is still increasing, the fertility rate is fast moving towards 2.1, required for population stabilization (China reached the fertility target of 2.1 two decades ago and it is currently 1.55. Today the high fertility regime is confined to large states such as Bihar (3.4), UP (3.1), MP (2.9) and Rajasthan (2.9) but even they are showing improvement. Combined together they make up 40% of India’s population. It means rest of the 60 percent population taken together has already reached fertility rate below 2.1!
About 75% of the people live in more than 550,000 villages and the remainder 25% in about 200 towns and cities. Politically and economically, most of the development has remained confined within the quarter of the population living in the urban area. Neglect of the rural India for last sixty years is mainly responsible for the high poverty level as well as the current population size. Here, you might like to explore:
Real Reason of Current Population Growth
The current population growth is not because women are having too many babies but because there are too many people in the reproductive age group – it is “young India”. Such a population growth is said to be driven by population momentum in the language of demographers. The following facts of “young India” provide the reason for current population growth:
Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age;
More than 50% of Indian population is below 25; and
More than 65% people are under 35.
It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.
Faulty Population Control Policies
The government has realised that the population battle has to be fought on the social plain; not in the health centers or sterilization clinics. It is rightly focusing on spread of education, particularly among the girls and empowerment of women. In fact, if women have sufficient freedom they would not like to enter early in the marriage, nor would they like to get pregnant too soon. By now there is already a widespread awareness about the benefits of small family size throughout the country. What is required is to spread the availability of contraceptives and medical care so that women don’t get pregnant too soon and can avoid births they don’t intend. In nutshell, all these measures suggest a concerted fight against the population momentum.
Target Population Momentum, Not Sterilization
The importance of momentum driven population growth increases as the fertility levels goes down. In 1994, noted demographer, John Bongaart, estimated that in the twenty-first century, population growth would be largely momentum driven and account for nearly half of world population increase. He also pointed out that the momentum driven population growth could be reduced simply by raising the average age of childbearing. He also estimated that an increase in the age at first birth by 2.5 year would reduce population growth momentum by 21%.
Applying Bongaart’s model to India, researcher Visaria concluded that about 70% population growth is due to population momentum, 24% from unwanted fertility, and the rest 6% from wanted fertility. Talking in plain language, 70% population growth is due to the fact that there are simply too people in the reproductive age. The 24% growth is due to undesired (or accidental) or unplanned pregnancies which can be attributed to lack of easy availability of contraceptives, particularly in rural areas. And only 6% population growth is due to people’s desire to have more children. Neighboring Bangladesh has achieved significant reduction in fertility, mostly through spreading the availability of contraceptives throughout the country. In 1975, the total fertility rate in Bangladesh was over 5, today it is down to 2.2.
The correct way to counter population momentum involves delaying age at marriage, postponing the first birth, and then spacing further births. In the Indian context, these steps will have a significant impact. There is widespread tradition of child marriage in some populous parts of India where even girls below 15 get married and soon become mothers. Although the legal age of girl’s marriage is 18, it is routinely flouted in many parts of the country. For detailed analysis, please read
To counter the second biggest contributor (24%) to population growth – unwanted pregnancies – government need to strengthen its healthcare network in the rural areas where education and general awareness is rather poor. It requires equipping all the primary healthcare centers with sufficient supplies of contraceptives and making it easily available to people, particularly women. Counseling women about their reproductive health issues and the health implications of early or child marriages is another urgent requirement. If only all the unwanted pregnancies are avoided, the fertility rate would immediately fall below to around 2.0.
India has won the population battle! Its population should stabilize by 2050 at around 1.6 billion and then decline! What is important is to now accelerate economic development to utilize population dividend. Skill development is the way to go which is among the top priorities of Modi government.