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India set to become world’s most populous nation: UN

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United Nations: India’s population is expected to reach 1.425 billion by end of this month, dethroning China as the world’s most populous nation, the UN said on Monday.

According to the forecast based on the latest United Nations estimates and projections of the global population, China’s population could drop below one billion before the end of the century while India’s population is expected to continue growing for several decades.

China’s population reached its peak size of 1.426 billion in 2022 and has started to fall. Projections indicate that the “size of the Chinese population could drop below 1 billion before the end of the century, the projections said.

“China will soon cede its long-held status as the world’s most populous country. By the end of this month, India’s population is expected to reach 1,425,775,850 people, matching and then surpassing the population of mainland China,” it said Monday.

By contrast, India’s population is expected to continue growing for several decades,” it said.

The UN projection came nearly a week after the UN’s world population dashboard showed that India has surpassed China to become the world’s most populous nation with 142.86 crore people.

China now has a population of 142.57 crore, thus being the second most populous country, the UN world population dashboard showed on April 19 based on figures of February 2023.

In India, the number of adults of working age is projected to continue increasing both in number and as a proportion of the total population through mid-century, providing opportunities for faster economic growth over the next few decades.

Meanwhile, in China, projections indicate that the percentage of the population at ages 25-64 will peak in the coming years, “closing” the window of opportunity created by the changing age distribution.

However, the UN noted that due to the uncertainty associated with estimating and projecting populations, the specific date on which India is expected to surpass China in population size is approximate and subject to revision.

The UN said that in 1971, India and China had nearly identical levels of total fertility, with just under six births per woman over a lifetime. For India, it took three and a half decades to experience the same fertility reduction that occurred in China over a seven-year period during the 1970s. Fertility in China fell sharply to fewer than three births per woman by the end of the 1970s.

India’s current fertility rate (2.0 births per woman) is just below the “replacement” threshold of 2.1, the level required for population stabilization in the long run in the absence of migration. In 2022, China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates (1.2 births per woman).

“During the second half of the 20th century, both countries made concerted efforts to curb rapid population growth through policies that targeted fertility levels. These policies, together with investments in human capital and gender equality, contributed to China’s plummeting fertility rate in the 1970s and to the more gradual declines that followed in the 1980s and 1990s,” the UN said.

India also enacted policies to discourage the formation of large families and to slow population growth, including through its national family welfare programme beginning in the 1950s. India’s lower human capital investment and slower economic growth during the 1970s and 1980s contributed to a more gradual fertility decline than in China.

According to a policy brief from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), entitled “India overtakes China as the world’s most populous country”, between 2023 and 2050, the number of persons aged 65 or over is expected to increase by more than double in India and to nearly double in China.

Nevertheless, as a proportion of the total population, the growth of the older population in India will be much slower than in China.

The UN agency said that policies and programmes aimed at influencing fertility should ensure the basic human right of all individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly on the number and the timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Employment and social policies need to make it both possible and desirable for women to have children while remaining in the labour market and continuing to develop their careers. Such policies can include the provision of subsidized childcare, maternal and paternal leave, and tax credits, among others.

In the effort to combat climate change, it is essential that increasing incomes per capita in India and China do not undermine efforts towards more sustainable consumption and production. “All countries must urgently transition away from their current overdependence on fossil-fuel energy,” it said.

Considering future population trends in national development planning, informed by high-quality, timely and disaggregated data, is critical to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN recommends that a national census be taken at least once every 10 years. India’s planned 2021 census was delayed due to challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and is now scheduled for 2024, the agency said. In China, the most recent census was taken in November 2020.


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