Minding your P's and Q's: What they don't tell you about the Population Question!

There is considerable concern that India’s population will soon become the highest in the world. And that is a victory we do not want over the Chinese ! But let's leave the border skirmish aside for some time. On the 'population' front China is considered to have done much better than India. India appears to have made a hash of its population problem and our population seems to be perpetually growing. 

Let us pause for a moment and check out our P's and Q's ie. Population Quotient. Here is a Population Quiz.

Q. Why is India’s population still growing while China’s population growth has come to a grinding halt?

A. China’s population growth has NOT halted
Both India and China have growing populations, the rate of growth is different. India has a growth of population growth rate of 1% per year while China has a population growth rate of 0.6% per year. According to current projections China’s population will stop growing and start declining by around 2030, for India this will come a little later in 2065. To provide some global perspective the US continues to grow at 0.7% while Japan has a contracting population at -0.2%. If you look at population growth rates across the world since 2010 (See Figure 1) Australia has the highest growth rate and by the turn of this century when India will have a negative growth rate the US will have a higher growth rate than ours .


Q. Can you explain why there is a ‘Population Explosion’ in India?

A. There is NO ‘Population Explosion’ in India. Increase in the number of people is influenced by four factors – births, deaths, in-migration and out-migration. The number of people grew in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s because the survival rates started becoming much higher as death rates came down drastically but birth rates did not and the population grew. Later the birth rates also started coming down and the population growth rate has been coming down every year (See figure 2).  

Figure 2: Population Growth Rates in India

But birth rates are more difficult to contain because there are two factors involved, the first being the number of children each woman has in  her lifetime (called the Total Fertility Rate ) and the number of women who are in the reproducing age group at any point in time. What has happened in India in the last fifty years is that the number of children that each couple has come down rapidly from 6 children to about 2 children now (See – Figure 3 ). 

Figure 3: Declining Total Fertility Rates in India

In some states it is now less than two children per couple. But since the number of women of reproducing age are now much larger in numbers compared to earlier (the children who were born earlier are now in the reproducing age group) leading to the apparently large number of children being born. This is clearly visible when one looks at the ‘population pyramid’ which gives the break-up of population by age group. If we compare the population pyramid of India from 1951 to 2011 we can clearly see that the proportion of children in the population as come down while the number of younger people has become much higher ( See – Figure 4).

Figure 4: Population Pyramids
The delay in the reduction in the number of children being born per couple and the overall slowing of the population growth rate is called the ‘momentum effect’ much like the fact that a car or train continues to move for some time after the brake has been applied . The distance it will more depends on the speed at which it was travelling. The speed of population growth was fast (as death rates came down fast) because of successful public health measures and what we see is the momentum from those times. If we look at the figures the population ‘growth rate’ is coming down every year and only the population of those above 25 years of age is still growing, and the population growth rate of all younger age groups is coming down. (See-Figure 5 ).

Figure 5: Population Growth by Age-group

Q. If there is no ‘population growth’, why are cities becoming so crowded?

A. Cities in India are getting crowded because of internal migration from rural to urban India. The level of urbanisation grew from 27.8% in 2001 to 31.6% in 2011. This is because there is a lack of opportunities in villages and there is movement of poorer people seeking job opportunities in the cities. It was estimated that there were 139 million internal migrants in India in 2011 and the number was growing at around 9 million every year. 

Q. Surely the population must be growing among the poor, because the middle class has controlled its family size.

A. Family sizes have come down among all sections of the population in India. In percentage terms whether it is urban or rural India, whether it is the poor or the rich, whether it is the Hindu or the Muslim, family sizes which is related to Total Fertility Rates have come down among all social groups (See – Figure below showing the figures from 1993 to 2015). Also, in states where couples have more children, it is often because they do not want children but don’t have the proper contraceptives that they need. This is called the unmet need, and these rates are also higher in states where TFR is higher. This is the result of health services not reaching people, rather than people wanting more children. Overall the unwanted fertility in India is 0.4 and if you reduce this from the overall Total Fertility Rate of 2.18 the desired fertility rates comes down below 2 and population decline would have already started. 

Q. Is in-migration into India from neighbouring countries not leading to population growth.

A. This is NOT the case in India. In-migration into any country is also counterbalanced by out-migration from the same country. People migrate because of opportunities and India has a negative immigration rate which means that overall more people migrate out of the country compared to the number of people coming in. Thus, more people are leaving India for better opportunities elsewhere. Immigration is often the only way some countries are maintaining a stable working population like Australia, Canada, the US and many countries in Europe. As the birth rates come down, the proportion of older people in the population keeps growing. A country like Japan which was once the most rapidly growing economy of the world now has a sluggish economy also because its population comprises of a very large number of older people and Japan has restrictive immigration laws ( See – Figure 6). There is also a lot of internal migration within India as people from many states in move out to states in the South and West because of lack of income opportunities in their own states.

Q. Population Growth is clearly related to climate change isn’t it?

A. Climate change is related to the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Today carbon emissions are at a historic high. It is assumed since India has a large population with poor tree cover, India’s large population is an important source of the carbon dioxide being produced. Historically we know that Europe and North America went through their industrialisation processes earlier. In the late 60’s and 70’s there was a phenomenon called ‘acid rain’ when sulphur and nitrogen from burning fossil fuels came down as acid in rain, leading to soil and water acidification. An important consequence of such air pollution was that more stringent air pollution laws were enacted, cleaner technology was adopted and over time the factories were shifted out to countries elsewhere notably China and to some extent India. Today for products purchased in the US and Western Europe the factories are all in China or India and the pollution has also been effectively outsourced. When we see per capita carbon emissions, the rate of in India is nearly one tenth of that of the US or Canada (See – Figure 8 ). It is true that pollution and carbon footprints are increasing but this is not done by those whose population we see as being a problem, notably the rural poor. 

Q. Are there any problems if the population growth reduces rapidly?

A. Rapid decline of the family size to below 2 children per family can lead to serious social problems. When China adopted the one child policy, it allowed couples to determine the sex of the foetus and go in to sex-selective abortions. As a consequence the child sex ratio in China came down rapidly, which meant very few girls were being born and the number of boys in the overall population becoming proportionately higher. This situation of adverse sex-ratio was also found in India in states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra comparatively the more affluent state. Over the last fifteen years laws have become stricter in penalising sex detection, but the problem continues. Family planning is about the family and gender equality is an important value within the family. Involving men as responsible parents and partners is an important way to promote gender equality within the family and avoid adverse sex ratios  . 

Population Facts in India

India’s population growth rate has slowed down considerably over the last two decades.

India’s Population continues to increase not because couples have more children but because many more young couples are having fewer children. This is called the momentum effect.

Couples from all over the country and among all social groups now have smaller families than before. Those who had larger families earlier have reduced their family sizes the most.

The number of children per family which translates to the Total Fertility Rate is now 2.18 which is very close to replacement fertility of 2.1 per woman.

The only way to slow population growth further is to increase the promotion and use of spacing methods.

In those places where women have more children, they also have greater need for appropriate family planning services which they don't get

When there are small families without gender equality in society it can lead to decline in the sex ratio of girls which is an important problem in India.

Young people need access to contraceptive services.

Men need to be involved in family planning as responsible partners, parents and citizens.

Hope your PQ's better now. Have a Great Day!


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