India becomes most populous: We need to step up investments in education and professional skilling of youth
India/April 20, 2023/by Poonam Muttreja/Source: https://indianexpress.com/
It is imperative that in India, the state plays a role in ensuring that bringing up children, and looking after the elderly, remain affordable
India has officially surpassed China to become the most populous country in the world. A strange, even tragic, predicament faces the world. While one part of the planet is dealing with a growing population which needs food, jobs, education, and healthcare, the other is grappling with a declining population. Recently, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a “now or never” appeal to the people of Japan, exhorting them to have more children. “Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions,” Kishida reportedly said. Similar trends have been reported in several other countries of the world. Several reasons are being attributed by scholars and demographers to this unwillingness of couples to have children. They range from inflation and increasing costs of raising a child to a conscious choice made by couples to remain childless.
Earlier this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in China reported it had 8,50,000 fewer people in 2022 than the previous year. This marks the reversal of a positive population growth trend that China had recorded over decades. South Korea, the country with the lowest fertility rate in the world, beat its own record and reported a birth rate of 0.78 – down from 0.81 in the previous year. According to the United Nations’ World Population Prospects (UNWPP) 2022 report published last year, the world reached the 8-billion mark in November 2022. It projects that around 61 countries or areas will see negative growth by 1 per cent between 2022 and 2050. It notes that the populations of a large part of the world, including Eastern and South Eastern Asia, Central and Southern Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe, are expected to start declining before 2100.
A study published in The Lancet in 2020 states that the global population is projected to peak in 2064 at 9·73 billion people and decline to 8·79 billion by 2100. The global Total Fertility Rate (TFR) will go down to 1·66 in 2100. India is also projected to continue its steep decline in total fertility rate, which will reach 1.3 along with a total population of 1.1 billion, in 2100. The UNWPP 2022 report further states that two-thirds of the increase through 2050 will be due to the “momentum of the past growth” due to the youthful age structure of the current population.
Achieving replacement level fertility marks an important milestone for a country as it means the country’s population has either stabilised or will stabilise in the future. Demographically, a stable population is achieved slowly, through development made possible by greater investments in education, economic well-being, jobs with women and girls at the centre. However, China with its one-child policy hurtled down the “population control” path and is now suddenly faced with a negative growth rate and a rapidly ageing population.
The world has, so far, prided itself on population reduction, especially with respect to countries that are growing and will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Why, then, do we hear voices of despair if having fewer people is the hallmark of development? After all, a smaller population means fewer people to feed and fewer people to care for. Right?
Reducing population growth sometimes has a component of patriarchy. In this context, in India and other countries like China, South Korea and Japan, which have a general preference for male offspring and patriarchal norms, population decline has been parallel to an adverse sex ratio. In China, the one-child policy is responsible for as many as 1.12 males per female. In some countries, there may also be an economic cost to declining populations. In 2016, a sensational story appeared in the global media. The story was about a lone girl passenger from a Japanese town for whom a train service was run twice a day so that she could go to school. While the commitment of the system to ensure the young girl’s ability to pursue her education is commendable, dwindling numbers mean that health facilities, schools, and publicly-funded institutions will need to keep providing services for a few at great costs.
The other prospect is a rapidly greying population with a decreasing younger and productive population. WHO warns between 2015 and 2050, the world’s population over 60 years will increase by almost twofold — from 12 per cent to 22 per cent. In India, states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which achieved replacement levels of fertility early, have larger older populations. India still has a relatively low dependency ratio (48.1 per cent), which indicates the percentage of the population below 15 years and above 65 years. On the other hand, Japan with a larger proportion of the ageing population has a dependency ratio of 71 per cent.
Countries like China and Japan are among the most expensive to raise children in. The South Korean government has put in place initiatives such as extending paid paternity leave and monetary benefits to new parents. China has been offering a series of incentives including tax benefits to parents to encourage couples to have more children. Japan too has been offering benefits and incentives.
India has one of the oldest family planning programmes in the world, which was created under Jawaharlal Nehru. This was when even international agencies were hesitant to work in this “controversial” area. India has followed ICPD Cairo-endorsed development-focused policies in its efforts to stabilise its population. Some of its recent programmes like the Mission Parivar Vikas have mainstreamed family planning nationally while helping reduce fertility. India should step up its investments in education and the professional skilling of its youth to ensure that they can contribute significantly not only to India but to the global economy, particularly in countries with declining populations. At the same time, we must also be mindful of our own future. India has a stable, and even declining population with an increasing number and proportion of ageing population. It needs to make sure that its ageing population is looked after through improved state-supported care so that the young are not constrained by the need to take care of the old.
As the world’s population declines, slowly but surely, the future may look apocalyptic – ghost towns that are not caused only by disasters or disease but also by the human inability to populate. While countries with negative growth need to self-examine, it is imperative that in India, the state plays a role in ensuring that bringing up children, and looking after the elderly, remain affordable. Population trends may not change so fast, but once they do, they remain that way. It will be prudent to foresee, and plan ahead.
Deja un comentario