Context: A new study by the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) says that as the 21st century closes, India’s population will be about 1.09 billion instead of approximately 1.35 billion today. It could even be as low as 724 million.

Key findings by IHME study: India’s population will peak and subsequently decline due to a sharp reduction in fertility. 

Fertility decline: 

  • By the year 2100, Indian women will have 1.29 children. Since each woman must have two children to replace herself and her husband, this will result in a sharp population decline. 
  • However it is difficult to believe that this predicted fertility rate of 1.29 for India is less than the projected 1.53 for the United States and 1.78 for France.
    • Fertility decline in western countries is due to retreat from the family system.

The IHME projections Vs United Nations projections

  • The UN projects that India’s population will be 1.64 billion by 2050, the IHME projects 1.61 billion by 2048. 
  • The UN predicted a population of 1.45 billion by 2100, and the IHME, 1.09 billion.
  • Reasons for divergence:
  • IHME model excessively relies on data regarding current contraceptive use in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). 
  • Contraceptive use in the NFHS is poorly estimated, so the gap in contraception may be lower than that estimated by the IHME model.

Fertility trends in India

  • In the 1950s, India’s Total fertility rate (TFR) was nearly six children per woman; today it is 2.2. 
    • The family planning initiatives and forced sterilisation during the Emergency led to a meagre 17?cline in TFR from 5.9 in 1960 to 4.9 in 1980. 
    • However, between 1992 and 2015, it had fallen by 35% from 3.4 to 2.2.
  • 18 States and Union Territories have a TFR below 2, the replacement level.

Family planning initiatives in India:

  • Coercive policies: Between 1975 and 1994, family planning workers had targets they were expected to meet regarding sterilisations, condom distribution and intrauterine device (IUD) insertion which led to explicit or implicit coercion. 
    • Following the Cairo conference on Population and Development in 1994, these targets were abandoned.
  • Punitive policies include denial of maternity leave for third and subsequent births, limiting benefits of maternity schemes and ineligibility to contest in local body elections for individuals with large families. These policies were mostly ignored in practice.

Reasons for decline in fertility: 

  • Aspirational revolution: The socioeconomic transformation of India since the 1990s

    • Agriculture’s share of India’s GDP declined and school and college enrolment grew sharply and people started finding a job.
    • Rethink of family-building strategies: Earlier farmers used to have more children to produce more workers, while the new aspirational parents seem to demonstrate increased commitment to family by reducing the number of children and investing more in each child. 
      • Small and large families do not differ in their leisure activities, women’s participation in the workforce or how many material goods they purchase.
      • But small families have more money for investments on children.


  • High fertility rate in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar or among women with low levels of education or Muslims results in politicians proposing remedies that would force them to have fewer children.
  • Demographic data suggest that the aspirational revolution is already under way. We should ensure that the health and family welfare system provides contraception and sexual and reproductive health services that allow individuals to have lesser children.

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