Challenges and opportunities of being the most populous country


    In Context

    India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023, according to the 27th edition of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, 2022.

    • However, this is not because India has not successfully implemented its population policy but because China’s fertility is lower than anticipated. 

    Major Points

    • The global population is expected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. 
    •  Rates of population growth vary significantly across countries and regions:
      • More than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania.


    • Theory of demographic transition suggests that population growth is linked to overall levels of economic development .
    • Population change in an area is an important indicator of economic development, social upliftment and historical and cultural background of the region.
    • The demographic ‘dividend’ to be derived from the age structure of the population is due to the fact that India is (and will remain for some time) one of the youngest countries in the world
      • The ‘demographic dividend’ results from an increase in the proportion of workers relative to non-workers in the population. 
        • Countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have already shown us how demographic dividend can be reaped to achieve incredible economic growth by adopting forward-looking policies and programmes to empower the youth in terms of their education, skills and health choices. 
          • There are important lessons from these countries for India.
    • The rising young population provides India with a great opportunity for growth, peppered with the possibility of path-breaking innovation.
      • India’s population heterogeneity ensures that this window of demographic dividend becomes available at different times in different States.
    • Population growth will lead to economic growth with more people able to produce more goods.
      •  It will lead to higher tax revenues which can be spent on public goods, such as health care and environmental projects.
    • Farming and industry have been able to benefit from economies of scale, which means as the population grows, food output and manufacturing output have been able to grow even faster than population growth.
    • Higher populations can enable a critical mass of people to have a more vibrant society. 
      • When the population grows, it can enable the support of a broader cultural range of activities.
    • The size of the population is intimately connected to the power dynamics shaping the relationship between nations, regions and generations. 
      • It is, however, a double-edged sword that needs to be skillfully wielded.

    Challenges /Concerns 

    • Thomas Robert Malthus’s theory of population growth – outlined in his Essay on Population (1798) 
      • He argued that human populations tend to grow at a much faster rate than the rate at which the means of human subsistence (specially food, but also clothing and other agriculture-based products) can grow.
        • Therefore humanity is condemned to live in poverty forever because the growth of agricultural production will always be overtaken by population growth.
    • The increase in the working-age population may lead to rising unemployment, fueling economic and social risks. 
    • High population growth also affects the depletion of resources
    • Globally, one in five working-age persons will live in India. 
      • The challenge is that a sizable working-age population does not mean many workers. 
      • The size of our labour force is constrained by the absence of women from the workforce. 
        • Only about 30 percent of women aged 15 and above are employed either in wage work on family farms and businesses
          • The absence of women in factories, the transportation sector and skilled blue-collar work is striking. 
    • About 9.4 per cent of Indian women have an unmet need for contraception, which means that approximately 22 million women want to stop or delay childbearing but do not have access to a method of contraception. 
    • The 65+ category is going to grow quite fast and it faces several challenges.
      • Provisioning of social security is obviously a big challenge. This will stretch the resources of the future governments.
    • Education is an enabler to bridge gender differentials
      • The gender inequality of education is a concern. 
      • In India, boys are more likely to be enrolled in secondary and tertiary school than girls. 

    Way Forward 

    • The government needs to play a pivotal role and invest in education, health and creating economic opportunities for young people, which would help us harness demographic dividend.
    • This calls for forward-looking policies incorporating population dynamics, education and skills, healthcare, gender sensitivity, and providing rights and choices to the younger generation.
    • India needs to invest more in children and adolescents, particularly in nutrition and learning during early childhood
    • India needs to increase female workforce participation in the economy.
    • A new federal approach to governance reforms for demographic dividend will need to be put in place for policy coordination between States on various emerging population issues such as migration, ageing, skilling, female workforce participation and urbanisation. 
    • With industrial growth concentrated in coastal regions and the bulk of our workers coming from central areas, we will also need to figure out how to deal with interstate migration
    • The pandemic highlighted the need  for better policies to integrate and support migrant workers in their new homes if we are to adjust to changing demographic realities.
    • We must develop more robust systems of old-age support
    • Countries with ageing populations should take steps to adapt public programmes to the growing numbers of older persons, establishing universal health care and long-term care systems, and by improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems.


    [Q] Discuss the positive and negative effects of the growing population  in India.