A Demographic Window Of Opportunity: On Population And Policy

By Moderator July 12, 2019 10:00

Sonalde Desai, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland express her views on India’s Population and Policy.

Important Analysis

  • Last month, the United Nations released the 26th revision of World Population Prospects and forecast that India will overtake China as the most populous country by 2027.
    • Population projections are developed using existing population and by adjusting for expected births, deaths and migration
    • For short-term projections, the biggest impact comes from an existing population, particularly women in childbearing ages.

Important findings

  1. India will overtake China as the most populous country: Having instituted a one-child policy in 1979, China’s female population in peak reproductive ages (between 15 and 39 years) is estimated at 235 million (2019) compared to 253 million for India.
    • Thus, even if India could institute a policy that reduces its fertility rate to the Chinese level, India will overtake China as the most populous country.
  2. The decline in fertility rate among women in India: In 2015, it was predicted that India would overtake China in 2022, but in the 2019 projections it is 2027.
    • The UN has revised India’s expected population and policy size in 2050 downward from 1,705 million in 2015 projections to 1,639 million in 2019 projections.
      • This is due to faster than expected fertility decline, which is good news by all counts.

Measures to control the population and policy

  1. Adopt more stringent to control population and policy: Many experts believe that unless the Indian state can and chooses to act with the ruthlessness of China, it would be difficult to control the population and policy. Almost all weapons that can be used in a democratic nation, have already been deployed. This includes
  • Restriction of maternity leave and other maternity benefits for the first two births only
  • Disqualification from panchayat elections for people with more than two children in some States
    • Ground-level research by former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh Nirmala Buch found that individuals who wanted larger families either circumvented the restrictions or went ahead regardless of the consequences.
    • As one of her informants noted, “The sarpanch’s post is not going to support me during my old age, but my son will. It does not really matter if I lose the post of sarpanch
  • Minor incentives for sterilization.
  1. If punitive actions won’t work, we must encourage people to have smaller families voluntarily.
  • There are sharp differences in fertility among different socio-economic groups.
  • Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for the poorest women was 3.2 compared to only 1.5 for the richest quintile in 2015-16.
  • To get to TFR of 1.5, a substantial proportion of the population among the top 40% must stop at one child.

Western vs Indian notion on child rearing

  • In western societies, low fertility is associated with the conflict that working women face between work and child-rearing and the individual’s desire to enjoy a child-free life.
  • Contrarily in India, couples with one child do not consume more nor are women in these families more likely to work.
    • Research shows that it is a desire to invest in their children’s education and future prospects that seems to drive people to stop at one child.
    • Richer individuals see greater potential for ensuring admission to good colleges and better jobs for their children, inspiring them to limit their family size.
    • Thus, improving education and ensuring that access to good jobs is open to all may also spur even poorer households into having fewer children and investing their hopes in the success of their only daughter or son.
    • Provision of safe and easily accessible contraceptive services will complete this virtuous cycle.
  1. We must change our mindset about how the population is incorporated in broader development policies.
    • We must penalize states that failed to control the population. Population growth in the north and central parts of India is far greater than that in south India.
    • Between the 1971 and 2011 Censuses, the population of Kerala grew by 56% compared to about 140% growth for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.
      • 15th Finance Commission is expected to use the 2011 Census for making its recommendations.
      • This has led to vociferous protests from the southern States as the feeling is that they are being penalized for better performance in reducing fertility.
      • A move to use the 2011 Census for funds allocation will favor the north-central States compared to Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Way Ahead

Demographic dividend provided by the increasing share of working-age adults is a temporary phase during which the child dependency ratio is falling and the old-age dependency ratio is still low. But this opportunity only lasts for 20 to 30 years.

  • As the United Nations Population Fund estimates, For States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu which experienced fertility decline early, this window of opportunity is already past.
  • Over the next 20 years, the window of opportunity will be open for moderate achievers such as Karnataka, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir.
  • As the demographic window of opportunity closes for these States, it will open for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other States that are the last to enter fertility transition.
    • This suggests that workers of Bihar will be supporting the aging population of Kerala in 20 years.

In order to maximize the demographic dividend, the Government must invest in the education and health of the workforce, particularly in States whose demographic window of opportunity is still more than a decade away.

Staying fixated on the notion that revising State allocation of Central resources based on current population rather than the population from 1971 punishes States with successful population and policy is shortsighted.

  • This is because current laggards will be the greatest contributors to the future for everyone, particularly for aging populations of early achievers. Enhancing their productivity will benefit everyone.

It is time for India to accept the fact that being the most populous nation is its destiny. It must work towards enhancing the lives of its current and future citizens.

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By Moderator July 12, 2019 10:00