IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

India’s population data and a tale of two projections  

12th August, 2020 Editorial

Context: A new study argues that while India is destined to be the largest country in the world, its population will peak by mid-century. And as the 21st century closes, its ultimate population will be far smaller than anyone could have anticipated, about 1.09 billion. It could even be as low as 724 million.


Details of Research:

  • The IHME population projections are subject to underlying assumptions. They predict that by the year 2100, on average, Indian women will have 1.29 children.
  • Contrast this predicted fertility rate of 1.29 for India with the projected cohort fertility of 1.53 for the United States and 1.78 for France in the same model.
  • It is difficult to believe that Indian parents could be less committed to childbearing than American or French parents.
  • The UN projects that India’s population will be 1.64 billion by 2050, the IHME projects 1.61 billion by 2048.
  • It is only in the second half of the century that the two projections diverged with the UN predicting a population of 1.45 billion by 2100, and the IHME, 1.09 billion.
  • Part of this divergence may come from IHME model’s excessive reliance on data regarding current contraceptive use in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and potential for increasing contraceptive use.


Fertility decline

  • India’s demographic future contains a peaking and subsequently declining population driven by a sharp reduction in fertility.
  • In the 1950s, India’s Total fertility rate (TFR) was nearly six children per woman; today it is 2.2. One might attribute it to the success of the family planning programme but family planning has long lost its primacy in the Indian policy discourse.
  • Between 1975 and 1994, family planning workers had targets. Often these targets 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.


Aspirational revolution

  • It seems highly probable that the socio economic transformation of India since the 1990s has played an important role.
  • Agriculture became an increasingly smaller part of the Indian economy, school, college enrolment grew sharply, and individuals lucky enough to find a job in government, multinationals or software services companies reaped tremendous financial benefits.
  • Where farmers used to see more workers when they saw their children, the new aspirational parents see enrollment in coaching classes as a ticket to success.
  • Indian parents seem to demonstrate increased rather than decreased commitment to family by reducing the number of children and investing more in each child.
  • Smaller families invest more money in their children by sending them to private schools and coaching classes.


Demographic data suggest that the aspirational revolution is already under way. What we need to hasten the fertility decline is to ensure that the health and family welfare system is up to this challenge and provides contraception and sexual and reproductive health services that allow individuals to have only as many children as they want.