China’s shrinking population and India’s surging ahead

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    • The issues & potential of China’s shrinking population and India’s surging ahead, are huge. 

    More about the news

    • Case of China:
      • China’s population, according to its National Bureau of Statistics, fell to 1,411.8 million in 2022, from 1,412.6 million in the previous year. 
    • India’s case:
      • India has not conducted an official headcount Census after 2011. But going by the United Nations’ projections, its population stood at 1,417.2 million in 2022 (more than China’s) and is expected to reach 1,428.6 million in 2023.

    Drivers & indicators of population change

    • Mortality rate:
      • A country’s population increases with reduction in mortality or relative number of deaths. 
      • Mortality falls with 
        • Increased education levels
        • Public health and vaccination programmes
        • Access to food and medical care, and 
        • Provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. 
      • The crude death rate (CDR): 
        • It is the number of persons dying per year per 1,000 population 
        • CDR was 23.2 for China and 22.2 for India in 1950. 
        • It fell to single digits for China first in 1974 (to 9.5) and for India in 1994 (9.8), and further to 7.3-7.4 for both in 2020.
      • Life expectancy at birth:
        • Another mortality indicator is life expectancy at birth. Between 1950 and 2020, it went up from 43.7 to 78.1 years for China and from 41.7 to 70.1 years for India.
    • Fertility rate:
      • The population growth slows and may even go into reverse, like it has now for China with declining fertility rates.
      • The total fertility rate (TFR): 
        • The number of babies an average woman bears over her lifetime — was as high as 5.8 for China and 5.7 for India in 1950
        • The TFR has fallen sharply for India in the past three decades. 
        • Between 1992-93 and 2019-21, it came down from 3.4 to 2; the fall was especially significant in the rural areas.
      • Replacement-level fertility:
        • A TFR of 2.1 is considered as “replacement-level fertility”. 
          • Meaning, a woman having two children replaces herself and her partner with two new lives. 
        • Since all infants may not survive, the replacement TFR is taken at slightly above two.

    Issues with China’s declining population

    • TFR is below the replacement rate:
      • China’s TFR, according to its 2020 Census, was 1.3 births per woman which is marginally up from the 1.2 in the 2010 and 2000 censuses.
        • Issue is that the TFR is way below the replacement rate of 2.1. 
      • China officially ended its one-child policy, introduced in 1980, from 2016. But that’s unlikely to stop the decline in the country’s population, which the UN has projected at 1,312.6 billion in 2050, a near 100 million drop from the 2021 peak.
    • Decline working age population:
      • The real crisis for China is the decline in its population that is of prime working age. 
        • If there is a large population that’s able to work and earn, not only will there be relatively fewer people to support — those too old or too young — but also greater tax revenues and savings potential from the generation of incomes. 
      • As these are directed to finance investments, a virtuous cycle of growth is unleashed, as it happened in China.
      • But that cycle has started to reverse, and the share of China’s working-age population is projected to fall below 50% by 2045.

    India’s potential

    • TFR & replacement levels:
      • India has just begun seeing fertility rates fall to replacement levels, including in rural areas. 
        • The spread of education, farm mechanisation and fragmentation of landholdings are primary contributors to this fall.
        • Reduced labour requirements in agricultural operations and smaller holdings make it that much less necessary to have large families working the land.
      • But even with fertility rate declines, India’s population is projected to expand and de-grow only after touching 1.7 billion about 40 years from now.

    • Working age population:
      • More important is the working-age population: its share in the overall population crossed 50% only in 2007, and will peak at 57% towards the mid-2030s.

    Challenges for India:

    • Focus on key areas:
      • A population of more than 1.4 billion will require the unflinching focus of policymakers on areas fundamental to human well-being — education, nutrition, healthcare, housing, and employment
    • Productivity and economy:
      • The youth will have to be equipped with skills that are indispensable to the knowledge economy
      • People’s productivity will have to increase for any given per capita income.
      • Will need policies to increase jobs so that labour force participation rate increases for both men and women.
    • Climate change:
      • The climate crisis and other ecological imperatives will mean that the footprints of many activities are kept light. 
    • Democratic challenges:
      • Most importantly, the challenges will spur debate, discussion, even dissension, and require that diverse voices are heard. 
      • India’s democratic traditions and the strength of its institutions will be needed to navigate the way forward from here.
    • State-wise focus:
      • Much more needs to be done on this, of course, in large parts of the country, including in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, whose TFR is higher than the national average and where gender discrimination has deep social roots.
    • Choice to women:
      • To actually realise Population Control, educating women and giving them freedom to make choice and implement it, should be first to have attention by the Government.
      • States must ensure contraceptives are accessible, affordable and available in a range of forms acceptable to those using them.

    Way ahead

    • Overall then, India has a window of opportunity well into the 2040s for reaping its “demographic dividend”, like China did from the late 1980s until up to 2015. 
    • However, this is entirely contingent upon the creation of meaningful employment opportunities for a young population — in the absence of which, the demographic dividend can well turn into a demographic nightmare

    Source: TH