India’s Demographic Journey of Hits and Misses


    Syllabus: GS2/Social Issues; GS3/Economy; Population

    • As we observe World Population Day on July 11, there is much to reflect upon in India’s demographic journey over the decades, and there is need to delve into the hits and misses that have shaped India’s population dynamics.
    • In 1989, the United Nations established World Population Day following a proposal by Dr. K.C. Zachariah, a renowned demographer. At that time, the global population had surpassed five billion, and challenges such as poverty, health disparities, and gender inequality were prevalent, especially in developing countries.
    • Scary Decades: During the 1960s and 1970s, the global population was growing at an alarming yearly rate of 2%.
      • India faced predictions of doom, with widespread poverty, hunger, and mortality projected for the coming decades. However, reality took a different turn.
    • Fertility Decline: Global fertility rates declined rapidly due to improvements in living conditions and medical infrastructure. India followed suit, with fertility rates falling since the 1970s.
      • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 reports that India’s total fertility rate (TFR) decreased from 3.4 to 2 between 1992 and 2021, dropping below the replacement level of 2.1.
    • Mortality Reduction: Life expectancy increased significantly due to better healthcare and living standards. India witnessed a drop in mortality rates, leading to an ageing population.
      • Individuals aged 60 years and above constituted 8.6% of the total population in 2011, projected to rise to 19.5% by 2050.
    Understanding the Demographic Dividend

    – It refers to the economic growth potential that results from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64 years old) is larger than the non-working-age population (14 or younger and 65 or older).
    a. The change in age structure is typically brought on by a decline in fertility and mortality rates.

    Key areas where a country can find demographic dividends

    Savings — During the demographic period, personal savings grow and can be used to stimulate the economy.
    Labour Supply — More workers are added to the labour force, including more women.
    Human Capital — With fewer births, parents are able to allocate more resources per child, leading to better educational and health outcomes.
    Economic Growth — GDP per capita is increased due to a decrease in the dependency ratio.

    Demographic Dividend of India

    – India, with its large and young population, is currently experiencing a demographic dividend.
    a. It is expected to last until 2055, providing India with a unique opportunity to boost its economic growth.
    – India is expected to add another 183 million people to the working-age group between 2020 and 2050.
    – This change in the age structure of the population can lead to a ‘demographic dividend’ of economic growth if it is accompanied by sustained investments in education and health, and policies that promote labour force participation.
    • India’s population dynamics are intertwined with its development scenario:
    • Smaller Family Norms: The reduction in fertility signifies a transition toward smaller family norms.
      • It can reduce the proportion of the dependent population and result in a demographic dividend—a period where the working-age population exceeds the dependent population.
    • Eradicating Poverty: India made significant strides in eradicating poverty. The proportion of the population living below the poverty line reduced from 48% to 10% between 1990 and 2019.
    • Low Human Capital Base and Lack of Skills and Job Creation: Poor human capital formation is reflected in low employability among India’s graduates and postgraduates.
      • According to ASSOCHAM, only 20-30% of engineers find a job suited to their skills. It is a big challenge as skilling and reskilling are vital in current times because of the increasing new fields and opportunities.
    • The ongoing transformation of India’s economy from primarily agrarian to more non-agrarian presents two challenges:
      • Changing people’s skills to transit from the agricultural sector to either manufacturing or services, and;
      • Requiring workers to change location, as non-agricultural employment opportunities tend to be in urban centres far from rural India.
    • Health Crisis and Macroeconomic Shocks: With its large population, India faces many challenges, including coping with today’s health crisis, creating more jobs, managing macroeconomic shocks and mitigating climate change.
    • Gender Disparity: While gender inequality remains an issue in many parts of India, there has been significant progress in recent years toward gender equality.
      • It includes increasing levels of education and workforce participation among women, which can help to further increase the size and productivity of the workforce.
    • Inadequate Investment in Education and Health: To reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, India needs to invest heavily in education and health.
      • It is crucial to equip the workforce with the right skills to compete in the modern economy.
    • While India’s progress is commendable, challenges remain. Urbanisation strains infrastructure, and an ageing population demands tailored policies. As we approach 2030—the target year for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—India must continue its demographic journey with strategic planning and inclusive policies.
    • India’s demographic trajectory has seen both hits and misses, but the path forward involves leveraging the demographic dividend while addressing emerging challenges.
    Daily Mains Practice Question
    [Q] Highlights the major hits and misses that have shaped India’s population dynamics. How can India utilise its ageing population?

    Source: TH