Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his Independence Day speech in 2019, appealed to the country that population control was a form of patriotism. In 2020, the PM spoke about a likely decision on revising the age of marriage for women, which many stakeholders view as an indirect attempt at controlling the population size. The Prime minister is right in acknowledging that India has a large population, and creates its own set of problems, everything from lack of employment opportunities to lack of public infrastructure. Due to these concerns, population and its related solutions have themselves become a topic of intense political discussion.
However, the following chart indicates that the fertility rate for women has been consistently falling and is currently at 2.222. Parents need more children when they are poor, but as the per capita incomes increase, they need fewer children. As healthcare facilities start improving and parents observe children surviving, these children are no longer needed for child labour, women are educated and have information about and access to contraceptives people start planning for fewer children who will have better lives. Additional data from the National Family Health Survey shows that the fertility rate is projected to fall to 1.93 by 2025 and to 1.8 by 2030. So the data indicates that India does not need any coercive forces for population control.
A closer look at the states’ data also suggests that 19 states out of 22 for which data was collected had fertility rates below replacement level
Population growth is definitely positive and this data gives a lot of positive hope even though the population need not necessarily lead to economic growth. This can especially be understood in the case of India. India is currently going through a demographic dividend and India will only have the potential to realize it by 2030. The current state of education, healthcare, and job prospects indicate that it might soon turn into a demographic
disaster. These warnings are not something new. We keep hearing them in public discourse. Although what is important to highlight are the improvements made in health indicators, NFHS -5 survey indicates a reversal in many of those indicators like undernourishment, stunting, etc. Similarly, the pandemic has impacted education and learning outcomes in a negative way. Many jobs have been lost during the pandemic especially in the unorganized sector, pushing a lot of people below the poverty line. These losses in incomes will further have a negative impact on educational and health outcomes. Therefore, it is a matter of urgency for the government to focus on health and educational outcomes.
David Bloom in his paper on Population Dynamics in India, mentions that India can reap benefits from the demographic dividend if the government has the ability to divert the resources from investment in physical capital to investing in human capital like job training and skill development. Although in the short-run, investments in physical capital might be more productive at the margin but in long term, human capital will produce better results. It is only investments in human capital demographic development that might lead to higher economic growth.
Total Fertility Rate: It represents the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with age-specific fertility rates of the specified year.
Replacement Rate: the total fertility rate at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration.