(In UPSC Essentials’ new series ‘Society & Social Justice’, which we are starting for social issues topics of UPSC CSE, our subject experts will give an overview of the theme from both, static and dynamic point of view. ‘Express Inputs’ and ‘points to ponder’ will widen your horizon on the issue. Our first topic is ‘Population and associated issues’ which is divided into three parts. In part 1, Pranay Aggarwal talks with Manas Srivastava about causes, challenges and opportunities. He also addresses a past UPSC question and a general query on the topic.)
About the Expert: Pranay Aggarwal is an educator and mentor for aspirants preparing for UPSC Civil Services Examination. With more than 10 years of experience guiding civil service aspirants, he is acknowledged as an expert on civil service exam preparation especially on subjects like Social Issues and Sociology. He is a teacher, public speaker, and writer on various aspects of the exam.
Relevance of the topic: It is an important theme in GS I (Society), GS II, Prelims and Personality test. Aspirants will find it relevant for Essays as well. With India becoming the most populous country, this topic becomes essential for UPSC preparation.
Manas: What are the major causes of overpopulation in India?
Pranay Aggarwal: As we speak, we have overtaken China in terms of the size of its population, to become the most populous country in the world. Some of the factors which have contributed to overpopulation in India include poverty, illiteracy, ignorance about family planning and low contraceptive usage.
Socio-cultural factors such as early marriage, near universality of marriage and strong male child preference also lead to more births. Patriarchy and the resultant lack of female sexual and reproductive autonomy too have significantly contributed towards a higher fertility rate. Culturally, children, particularly sons, are considered an asset and a gift of God. Till date, a popular blessing elders shower on a young woman is ‘Doodho nahao, Pooto phalo’ (May you be blessed with riches and many children!)
Interestingly, our decadal population growth rate is modest. The problem of overpopulation can then be explained by the fact that we had a large population base to begin with. In other words, we are the largest population in the world because we have always been one of the largest populations in the world!Also, the reduction in death rate due to better nutrition and medical facilities and improved life expectancy since independence has also added to the overall size of the population.
Manas: What are the challenges of overpopulation?
Pranay Aggarwal: Overpopulation is an underlying cause for numerous other social problems. Overpopulation has significant consequences for the national economy. It results in massive and widespread poverty, unemployment and large scale migration.
It puts an immense strain on the nation’s infrastructure. No matter how much governments attempt to; they are unable to sufficiently provide for the teeming millions. Whether it is shortage of housing, schools and health infrastructure or the overcrowding in public transport; all of these can be traced to overpopulation. This, in turn, can lead to a crisis of governance amid citizens’ unfulfilled aspirations.
A large population can also be socially disruptive. It can lead to the deepening of social cleavages and foment social conflicts. For instance, it leads to the development of slums in urban areas where the residents lead a sub-human existence. It may induce a sense of relative deprivation amongst the disprivileged; resulting in crime, protests and social movements.
A large population is also responsible for environmental pollution, deforestation and ecological degradation.
Manas: What opportunities does a large population provide a nation?
Pranay Aggarwal: A large population is usually seen as a problem; but it does provide some opportunities.A large population also means a large and cheap labour force, necessary to fuel economic growth. For the next 3 decades, we can reap the demographic dividend.
A large population also means a huge market for various products and services, from mobiles to two wheelers and FMCG products. This means that Indian firms can always access the huge domestic market, even if other economies hit a recession. It also makes India an attractive investment destination for global investors and attracts much needed FDI. Given the large market size, firms can achieve economies of scale.
Having the world’s largest population also provides a psychological edge to the citizenry and national leadership alike. It affords us an opportunity to have a huge standing army, crucial for national security. For instance, it is reassuring that we have a standing army three times the size of Pakistan’s army.
All of these- our large market, huge population, growing economy and large army, also raise the importance of India in the comity of nations and helps build a case for our permanent membership in the UN Security Council.
Manas: Is poverty the cause of population growth in India, or vice versa? (UPSC past year question) How to deal with such a question?
Pranay Aggarwal: UPSC is looking for candidates who can address a question comprehensively and logically. Some aspirants erroneously assume they must ‘pick sides’. In this particular question, you shouldn’t.
Students must explain both sides – how poverty causes population growth; and how it is caused by a large population. Poverty is responsible for population growth as it encourages the poor to reproduce more with the expectation that more working hands will mean more family income. Poverty breeds illiteracy and ignorance about family planning. Poverty also compels families to marry their daughters young, resulting in higher fertility rates.Large population is responsible for poverty as for the family, more children means less expenditure per child on his health and education, more family expenses and less savings, and division of agricultural land into unviable landholdings. At a national level, overpopulation leads to underemployment, unemployment and low per capita income.
Students may conclude their answer by highlighting some other reasons for these phenomenons or offering solutions; as follows.
Of course, the two aren’t the sole causes of each other. There are multiple causative factors for both. For example, population growth is due to poverty but also due to cultural preference for male children and low contraceptive usage. Similarly, poverty is caused by a large population but also due to low female participation in the labour force.
Overall, it is a vicious cycle. But one which can be broken. Not all countries with a large population are poor. The United States, for instance. Public policy should focus on educating and skilling the large, young population and creating jobs for them; to attain higher standards of living for the people.
India is now the most populous country in the world, having overtaken China in population, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said in its State of World Population (SOWP) report, ‘8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities’, released on April 19. In November 2022, the UN had announced that the world’s population had crossed the 8 billion mark.
Highlights of the report
— The UNFPA has said the population of the world is 8,045 million, of which the largest share (65 per cent) is of people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, followed by those in the 10-24 years group (24 per cent). 10 per cent of the population is above 65 years of age.
— According to the UN’s 2022 report, the world’s two most populous regions are Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, with 2.3 billion people, representing 29 per cent of the global population; and Central and Southern Asia, with 2.1 billion (26 per cent). China and India accounted for the largest populations in these regions, with more than 1.4 billion each in 2022.
— Central and Southern Asia is expected to become the most populous region in the world by 2037.Earlier UN reports had said that the population growth in South Asia will begin to decline before 2100. The latest UN projections suggest that the global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100.
— More than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania. Countries of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to continue growing through 2100 and to contribute more than half of the global population increase anticipated through 2050.
— The 2023 report has said that while numbers will continue to grow for several decades, latest projections suggest that the rate of global population growth has fallen, and has been at less than 1 per cent since 2020.This is largely due to declining fertility; around two thirds of people live in a country or area with a total fertility rate at or below 2.1 children per woman (widely considered the “replacement fertility” rate, also called “zero-growth fertility” rate). In 1950 the global fertility rate stood at 5.
— The UN has said that already 60 per cent of the world’s population lives in a region where the fertility rate is below replacement level, up from 40 per cent in 1990. It is international migration that is now the driver of growth in many countries, with 281 million people living outside their country of birth in 2020. Migration has also occurred due to war, famines, and other catastrophes, it has pointed out.
— South Asia clocks some of the highest emigration trends, according to the report, with India seeing an estimated net outflow of 3.5 million between 2010 and 2021. Pakistan has the highest net flow of migrants of 16.5 million during the same period.
— Despite the continuing decline in the average number of births per woman, the total annual number of births has remained stable at around 140 million since the late 1980s “due to the youthful age distribution of the global population”, the UN said in an earlier report.
— In 2021, 134 million babies were born worldwide. In the future, the number of newborns is expected to slightly increase to reach 138 million annually between 2040 and 2045, despite the continuous decline in the average number of births per woman.
— In 2021, most births worldwide occurred in the two most populous regions—Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.One of the reasons for population growth globally flagged by the UNFPA has been that of increasing life expectancy.
— Fertility rates have been dropping in various parts of the world, as have mortality rates all over the world, with better access to health care and improving standards of living. This also means that parts of the world, such as Japan, have a rapidly ageing population.
— The 2023 report finds that life expectancy among men now stands at 71 years while among women it stands at 76 years.
— Globally, life expectancy reached 72.8 years in 2019, an increase of almost 9 years since 1990, the UN said in its 2022 report.
— Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average longevity of around 77.2 years globally in 2050. The share of the global population aged 65 years or above is projected to rise from 10 per cent in 2022 to 16 per cent in 2050.
— By 2050, the number of persons aged 65 years and above is expected to be more than double that of 5 year olds and the same as 12 year olds, the UN has said.
— Once fertility rates drop in high fertility regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the global population will start to decline.
— The UN report states that India now has 1,428.6 million people and is the most populous country in the world, outstripping China’s population.
— As much as 68 per cent of India’s population belongs to the 15-64 years category, and 26 per cent in the 10-24 years group, making India one of the youngest countries in the world.
— However, the fertility rate in India has been steadily dropping. The National Family Health 5 Survey (2019-21) found that India attained a Total Fertility Rate of 2.0 for the first time, less than the replacement level of 2.1, falling from 2.2 in NFHS 4 (2015-16).
— Experts say that India’s large population is a result of the “population momentum” from earlier decades, and that the country’s population is likely to start its decline closer to 2050.
— The increased use of contraceptive methods, spacing of pregnancies, access to health care and the impetus to family planning, besides increasing wealth and education, has contributed to the rate of growth of population slowing.“India’s growth rate stood at 2.3 per cent in 1972, which has dropped to less than 1 per cent now. In this period, the number of children each Indian woman has during her lifetime has come down from about 5.4 to less than 2.1 now. This means that we have attained the Replacement Fertility Rate, at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next. This shows that usage of modern contraceptives is rising across the country,’’Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, Poonam Muttreja, said.
— Life expectancy for men in India is the same as the global life expectancy of 71 years, while it is marginally lower for women at 74 years.
— The UN Population Fund’s projection that India could overtake China as the world’s most populous country in the next two months — the country’s population is estimated to touch 142.86 crore by the middle of the year, a little more than China’s 142.57 crore — should not trigger anxieties or cause alarm. Demographers today use a variety of metrics — fertility and replacement rates, age and region-wise data — to arrive at a far more layered understanding of population dynamics compared to 70 years ago when the country launched its first family planning programme. The UN report confirms a trend underlined in successive National Family Health Surveys and other government studies — the rate of population growth has slowed down appreciably in the past 10 years. India’s total fertility rate — number of children per woman — came down to 2 in 2020-2021 from about 3.4 in the early Nineties. The UN Population Fund reckons that a TFR of 2.1 is necessary for a country to attain population stability. The country is on course to achieve this if it maintains this rate in the next few years.
— A nuanced reading of demographics, however, does not always find traction, including in sections of the political class. As the UN report points out, “population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public”. Except for a lapse into forced sterilisation during the Emergency, governments in India have, by and large, relied on persuasion and education. In recent years, however, coercive methods — making people with more than two children ineligible for government jobs, for instance — have become a part of the family planning playbook of some states. Such tendencies must be curbed. The UN report rightly points out that, “Global experience shows family planning targets can lead to… coercion of women”. In parts of the country where the TFR is above the national average — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya — governments must follow the time-tested methods of empowering women and investing in their education and strengthening healthcare facilities.
— Two-thirds of India’s total population is between the ages of 15 and 64. Education, skill development and creating opportunities, especially for the youth of disadvantaged sections and women, will hold the key to the country using the demographic dividend to its advantage in the next 20 years. An area of concern is the low participation of women in the labour force. World Bank data shows that female labour participation in India plunged from 32 per cent in 2005 to 19 per cent in 2021.
— This is a major reason for the country being slow to take advantage of its large working-age population as compared to countries such as South Korea. In taking advantage of opportunities and addressing challenges, there are bound to be debates, conflicts of opinion, and dissent. The world’s most populous country will need to use and strengthen its democratic institutions to find the way forward.
(Source: UN population report: Key takeaways for India and the world by Esha Roy)
Manas: What are other major questions around population that you think students should be prepared to answer?
Pranay Aggarwal: IAS aspirants should be well informed about the evolution of our national population policy, migration patterns in the country and associated issues. A significant shift in Indian demography has been indicated by recent reports. NFHS V data and its analysis will come in handy since the 2021 census has been delayed. Students need to be fully apprised of the demographic changes and the challenges that they will present. With thorough awareness of the problems, they need to be able to recommend solutions.
Other topical issues needing students’ attention are the potential of demographic dividend, delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies (scheduled after 2026), reverse migration during Covid19 lockdowns, the merits and demerits of punitive measures for population control, the demand for a caste-based census, raising the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years, an analysis of the population control bill and the international ramifications of India’s population surpassing China’s.
Manas: How should the notes on population growth be structured?
Pranay Aggarwal: For the civil services exam, students’ notes on population should be prepared topic-wise with the aid of the previous years’ question papers. Thereafter, topical issues should be covered. Any issue may be comprehensively addressed using the 3RS approach- Reiteration (what the issue is), Reasons (or causes), Results (or consequences) and Solutions. Candidates will be well advised to incorporate reports and statistics from the government and reputed international agencies like UNFPA in their notes to buttress their arguments.
Candidates must not miss out on the basics of population issues- factors that affect population change, the opportunities and difficulties presented by a rapidly growing population; and the evolution, achievements and shortcomings of India’s national population policy. The significance of the demographic dividend and how to harness it, migration trends; and issues pertaining to women, children and other vulnerable sections of the population (issues like sex ratio, child sex ratio and malnutrition) are some other important topics.Candidates should also pay attention to topical issues (mentioned in the previous question). They should be well prepared to attempt the civil services exam.
Udit Misra Explains:
Let’s look at how India’s population grew over the centuries. The following information is sourced from the 2018 book A Population History of India written by Tim Dyson, Emeritus Professor of Population Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. While reading these numbers, note that “India” refers to different geographies over the millennia and, of course, the accuracy of data becomes more and more a matter of debate as one goes back in time.
The earliest estimates date back to around 9,500 years ago. “If the first modern people arrived in the subcontinent sometime between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago, then following the end of the last glacial period — say around 9,500 to 7,000 years before the present — they probably numbered in the several hundred thousand,” writes Dyson.Around 4,000 years ago, most of the population (estimates vary between 4 to 6 million) was living in and around the Indus basin. “This was perhaps the largest concentration of human beings anywhere in the world at the time,” he states.
By the time the Mauryan empire flourished, most of the population had shifted to the Ganges basin. Regardless of the exact population, “from this time forth the Ganges basin would always contain one of the world’s largest concentrations of people.”
The next data estimate has been arrived at by using Hsuan Tsang’s observations. Data estimates continue to be quite uncertain for almost a thousand years and the next milestone, as it were, uses data from Ain-i-Akbari in 1595Since 1871, however, data has become more and more precise, thanks to formal census and UN projections.
Does population growth help economic development or hinder it?
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, once said: “The idea that population growth guarantees a better life — financially or otherwise — is a myth that only those who sell nappies, prams and the like have any right to believe.”Many may identify with Annan’s view while many others may disagree. In fact, the question — whether population growth is good or bad for economic development — has flummoxed researchers over the decades.
In 2015, Sean Fox (Associate Professor in Global Development at the University of Bristol) and Tim Dyson wrote a two-part blog for the International Growth Centre attempting to answer this very question.The starting point of this debate is Thomas Malthus’ argument in 1798 that population growth would depress living standards in the long run. Unaware of how technology would raise productivity on the one hand and improve health on the other, Malthus had suggested that the way to avoid mass starvation and disease in the wake of a population far exceeding resources was to exercise “moral restraint”.
Since then, however, the world population has grown eight times to reach the 8 billion mark. Still, Malthus’ essential insight and apprehension was hugely influential among policymakers.
During the 1950s and 60s, “the general view of economists was that high birth rates and rapid population growth in poor countries would divert scarce capital away from savings and investment, thereby placing a drag on economic development. They hypothesized that larger families have fewer aggregate resources and fewer resources per child. Larger families therefore spread their resources more thinly to support more children. This leaves less for saving and investing in growth-enhancing activities. It also reduces spending on enhancing the economic potential of each child (e.g. through education and health expenditures),” write Fox and Dyson.
However, between the 1970s and 1990s, this pessimism abated as several studies “failed to detect a robust relationship between national population growth rates and per capita income growth”.
The global view reverted in the 1990s when researchers again found a clear “negative association between population growth and economic performance”. The world was also introduced to the concept of “demographic dividend,” which essentially refers to a period in an economy’s trajectory when there is a bulge in the working-age population (roughly speaking, population between 15 and 65 years). This happens when fertility rates decline significantly over a period of time. With a lower proportion of children depending on the working population, there opens a window of opportunity during which such a country can potentially raise its level of savings and investment.
(Source — ExplainSpeaking: The history and economics of India’s population growth by Udit Misra )
Amitabh Sinha Explains:
The most reliable figures for India’s population comes from the Census that happens every 10 years. The last Census took place in 2011, and the 2021 exercise had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The process has not yet been initiated.
The 2011 Census had put India’s population at 1,210 million (121.08 crore, 1,210,854,977 to be exact). In July 2020, the Census office had released population projections for years 2012-2036, which remain the official estimates of India’s current population.
According to these projections, India’s population in 2023 was expected to be only 1,388 million (about 139 crore), significantly less than what the UNFPA’s State of World Population report and several other estimates have been suggesting. In fact, according to these projections, India’s population even in 2026 would be smaller than what UNFPA has estimated for the middle of this year. Improvements in life expectancy and decline in mortality rates, both of them positive indicators, could be some of the major reasons for the faster-than-expected growth in population in the short term.
The UNFPA report says that if India’s population continues to grow at the current pace — a shade below one per cent every year — it would double from the present value in the next 75 years. That would be the case with global population as well, currently slightly above 8 billion. Of course, both India’s and the world’s population are expected to stabilise much ahead of that.
An authoritative assessment of India’s current population has been hampered by an intriguing delay in carrying out the Census 2021 exercise. The pandemic is no longer an obstacle in carrying out any activity, but even more than a year after normalcy has been restored, there are no indications of the process being initiated in the near future. The Census exercise, being carried out every 10 years since the 1870s, has never been disrupted for this long. The government is yet to reveal its plans for Census 2021.
However, due to the outbreak of Covid19 pandemic, the conduct of Census 2021, updating of National Population Register and the related field activities have been postponed until further orders,” Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in response to a written Parliament question in Lok Sabha on February 7 this year.There has been no further official word on this.
In December last year, the office of the Registrar General of India had pushed the deadline to freeze administrative boundaries, the first step in the Census exercise, to June 30 this year. That means that the work is unlikely to begin at least till the end of June. With General Elections scheduled for next year, the Census exercise is unlikely to proceed at a fast pace. It usually takes at least two years for the Census exercise to get completed. Many datasets take several years after the completion of the exercise to come out.
The delay in completing the 2021 Census could have damaging implications for a variety of sectors, and could potentially impact India’s growth prospects as well. The Census exercise produces basic input data for all sorts of indicators used for planning and policy implementation. These indicators are also used for investment and trade decisions by global partners. In the absence of reliable indicators, based on solid numbers from the Census, the quality of these decisions could suffer.
(Source— India becomes world’s most populous nation: What’s behind the population numbers? by Amitabh Sinha)
BY THE WAY
India may have become the world’s most populous country, but its population growth has been slowing.
India’s Census figures show that its annual population growth rate was 1.3% in 1951, which increased to 2% in 1961. Over the next 30 years, from 1971-91, India’s annual population growth rate remained at a steady 2.2% and started to decline in the 1990s. In 2011, India’s growth rate was 1.6%.
According to the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), India’s population in 2021 stood at 1,393.4 million with an average annual rate of change of population of 1%.
According to census 2011, the median age in India was 24.9. In 2022, according to World Population Projections, India’s median age was 28.7, making it a young country.
India’s absolute numbers, however, continued to remain high because of a “population momentum”.
“A population momentum occurs when there is a very large young population in a country. These young people will want to have children and therefore, there is an increase in the population even when the growth rate itself may be on the decline. This occurs when a demographic transition is underway, like in India’s case. This momentum is projected to carry on for the next three decades. According to some projects, India’s population will peak in 2048, after which it will start declining. Projections also say that India will have a population of 1.1 billion in 2100, which is much less than what it is today. The UN has projected that India’s population will peak in 2053,” said Alok Vajpeyi of the Population Foundation of India (PFI).
The PFI in its studies has pointed out that the only way to slow down the momentum is to delay the age of marriage, delay the first pregnancy and ensure spacing between births.
The other issue at hand is higher fertility due to unmet need for contraception, which is the disconnect between a woman’s desired fertility and access to family planning services or contraceptive use.
According to National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) the unmet need for contraception among women in India is 9.4%, that is roughly 22 million women.
“The problem is that the stress remains on female sterilisation and the men are out of the picture. Permanent methods of sterilisation can be prohibitive because a couple may be unsure of whether they want to have children in future. So the government needs to expand the basket of contraception methods and increase the availability of temporary contraception methods. There are some new methods that have been introduced by the government, such as injectables, but their penetration is less than 1% so there needs to be more investment. But without a doubt the government’s Mission Parivar Vikas, which had targeted 148 high fertility districts across seven states, has been successful,” said PFI’s Poonam Muttreja, adding that the programme has now been extended to other districts in those seven states, as well as in the northeastern region.
Decadal growth rates have been seen to be declining across religious communities in India, but it has been sharper among Muslims than among Hindus over the last three decades. For instance, the decline in decadal growth rate during the last two census exercises (2001 and 2011) was 4.7 percentage points for Muslims as against 3.1 for Hindus.
During 2001-11, a steep decline was noted in the population growth rate of Jains (20.5 percentage points), Buddhists (16.7 percentage points), Sikhs (8.5 percentage points) and Christian (7 percentage points). “The decrease in growth rate differs from region to region as well. Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for instance, reached replacement level of Total Fertility Rates sometime in the 1990s because they worked on girls’ education and empowerment alongside social sector schemes. They now have an ageing population and are in an advanced demographic transition,” adds Vajpeyi.
(Source: India’s population growth rate on a steady decline since ’90s by Esha Roy)
The demographic crisis in Japan has been a long time in the making. Since the 1970s, the number of women choosing to have children has been in steady decline, and the population growth rate of minus 0.5 in 2021 is practically a national emergency.What adds to the problem is that while there are too few people in most parts of the country, “like butter scraped over too much bread”, metropolitan centres like Osaka and notably, Tokyo, have some of the highest rates of population density in the world. This divide is also related to age: The young, working population is moving to the cities, leaving the elderly behind. The most recent attempt to address this crisis relies on the most basic of all incentives — money.
The Japanese government is offering young families in Tokyo 1 million yen (about $7,600) per child to move to the hinterlands, or even the more hilly and less inhabited regions of the greater Tokyo area. This is a huge jump from the earlier incentive of 3,00,000 yen. Money alone, many will argue, is not enough for people to abandon the glamour, variety and freedom of city life. But is an urban, fast-paced life really a better one?
For many, the pecuniary incentive may just be the last little push they need. Across the world, the pandemic has led to a reordering of the nature of work, leisure and even a re-assessment of the meaning of a “good life”. For long, the people of Japan have been famous for their work(aholic) ethic. But with Covid, the pressures, pleasures and rush of the city gave way to a life at home, the desire for a break and the company of loved ones. And, as far as money goes, it’s always cheaper to live outside the realm of overpriced real estate. It is likely that the Japanese government is trying to capitalise on a ground level shift. It remains to be seen if the lure of city lights holds out, or not.
What is in store for you in Part 2 and Part 3?
— Boon or bane?
— What has been India’s population policy since independence?
— What are some government schemes addressing the population growth challenge?
— How to critically assess India’s population control policy?
— Is empowering women key to population control?
—Why issues related to population growth are important for future bureaucrats to know about?
— Good anecdotes and good phrases on population that students can use in their answer’s intro or conclusion.
and many more points to ponder…
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