A representative image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI.
The debate over “population growth” in India gained momentum after Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over a “population explosion” in his 2019 Independence Day speech. Although Modi had Appreciating the demographic dividend of India, he expressed his concern on this occasion and called for measures to deal with the implicit stress on the allegedly limited resources of the country. He also said that members of society who had small families were patriotic.
However, on World Population Day, we, a demographer and a population specialist, argue that Modi’s words were simply an old mistake in a new bottle.
In the 21st century, population growth in India is not a concern for economic or social development given the speed at which India has achieved its fertility transition and improved its aging rate compared to many other countries, including developed countries. To see how, it is important to read the data correctly.
Projections from the United Nations (2019) suggest that the total fertility rate of India or TFR rose from 5.9 children per woman in 1950 to 2.2 children per woman in 2020. This is very close to the fertility level. replacement of 2.1 children per woman; replacement fertility is, according to this definition, “The synthetic fertility index to which a population replaces itself exactly from one generation to the next, without migration”.
After 2050, the ISF should stabilize at 1.7 children per woman. Estimates based on the sample recording system also support the same conclusion.
All but six states in India have already achieved replacement fertility close to or equal to the national average. The six exceptions are Bihar (3.2), Uttar Pradesh (2.9), Madhya Pradesh (2.7), Rajasthan (2.5), Jharkhand (2.5) and Chhattisgarh (2.4).
The divergence of fertility rates among the states of India during the transition period, in particular from 1971 to 2001, has become a convergence since 2011. And demographers expect this converging trend to continue for some time.
Population growth in India has also slowed in recent decades: from 2.3% per year in 1975-1985 to around 1.2% per year in 2010-2015. It is expected to fall below 0.5% in the late 2040s and even become negative after 2060. Recent trends also indicate a decline in all major states, with the volume of decline more in these states which has traditionally experienced higher growth earlier.
National Family Health Survey reports the years 1995, 2000, 2007 and 2017 together suggest that fertility rates converge more quickly between Hindu and Muslim families and more widely among families of the upper castes.
The gap in fertility rates has widened and persists because women who have been better educated and who are wealthier overall have a TFR below the replacement fertility level.
The relationship between population and development depends more on the age and sex structure than on the absolute size of the population or its growth rate. Health care, education and employment policies, in particular those designed to take advantage of a changing demographic structure, are also very important. At the family or individual level, income and education level first affect population growth. Better access to education, especially for women, empowers them and exposes them to more family planning options, including the benefits of keeping a small family. This then contributes to the decline in fertility.
At the macro level, we to have found that about 1.65 billion more births could have been prevented by adopting various family planning methods from 1990 to 2016. We also predicted that continued adoption could prevent at least 1.9 billion births if the ‘ISF remained at 1.8 births per woman until 2061.
Following the same assumption, estimates of investments in lifetime returns suggest that each rupee invested made a profit of three rupees in 1991, 44 rupees in 2016 and could reach 627 rupees by 2061. Indeed, India will have greater elasticity in the ratio of family planning investments to economic returns for life compared to the world average (cost-benefit ratio of $ 1: $ 120).
This is why the period from 2016 to 2061 is a window of opportunity for India to reap its demographic dividend.
It should be noted that if the decline in fertility to the replacement level contributes to education and economic development, the TFR below 2.1 births per woman on average will probably be bad news for the economy. of the country in the long term.
Also read: PM Modi concerned about population explosion, problem expected to disappear in 2021
Coercive policies and curbs on fertility decline have failed in India and around the world. Once the decline in fertility is underway, it is difficult to reverse it. The European population is continuously grayingand their population growth measures such as incentives to have children do not work. The defining geopolitical challenge of the coming decades could be to welcome an angry and frightened China face the consequences of his only child policy.
Now is not the time to blame a specific population for its growth. Current moderate to slightly high fertility in some categories of the population is due to lower education, higher infant mortality, increased preference for sons and lack of access to family planning services. good quality. India should therefore focus more on improving access to better education, employment opportunities, good health care and family planning services. These measures will produce a higher demographic dividend.
Other worrying problems are the rapid aging and disappearance of girls at birth. It took 100 to 120 years to double the European population, but India only does so 30-35 years. There are also regional imbalances: northern India still has a moderate fertility burden, but southern India has a heavy burden related to aging. The government should treat the two issues with equal priority, particularly in terms of funds allocated under population and health policies.
Srinivas Goli is an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and a researcher at NGN Australia India Institute at the University of Western Australia, Perth. Neha Jain is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Regional Development, JNU.
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