‘Big news’ is India’s population growth is below replacement level: UN expert


While India’s population at 1.4 billion has surpassed that of China, the “latest big news” is that the population growth is below the replacement fertility rate in India and it has a “window of opportunity”, according to Rachel Snow, the lead demographer of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

The continued trajectory for India is that while the young population entering the reproductive phase will boost overall fertility, “given the fertility pattern already evident, we can start to anticipate the decline, the plateauing, and decline”, she said on Wednesday.

The replacement fertility rate is the average number of children a woman must have to keep the population steady and it is considered to be 2.1 children per woman.

The replacement fertility rate for India is 2, with wide variations within the country — between 1.6 for Punjab and West Bengal, and 3 for Bihar among the large states, according to Indian government data.

“You’ve got this big bulge of young people entering both reproductive years which means fertility will keep growing, but (also) entering the age of life for working,” she said, giving India a “window of opportunity”.

The question for India is that with this “window of opportunity”, will it be “able to mobilize the necessary investments in education and job creation, in gender equality, so that there will be an opportunity for that large population to indeed yield a dividend for the economy”, she said.

Snow gave the example of the Asian Tigers — mainly Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore — that had a tremendous spurt in economic growth, which also led to better living standards.

“In the 70s and 80s, the Asian Tigers had an extraordinary economic growth because there was a major investment in the health, education, the well being of that cohort of young people who then were able to boost the economy.”

The challenges for India, she said, are “there are so many people that are in the informal labor market. Again, educational standards are highly uneven — if you go north to south, south to north in India, we see tremendous diversity within such a large country”.

Snow was briefing reporters about the UNFPA’s annual report, which is titled, “8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: The Case for Rights and Choices”.

She said that the population issue should not be seen solely in terms of numbers and goals, but the as to how women are able to freely make their own reproductive choices.

She said that 44 percent of partnered women and girls do not have the right to make decisions on having children or not.

About 257 million women do not have access to safe, reliable contraception, she added.


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