Saturday, March 16, 2024

It Is Possible That India's Population Will Be Under One Billion By The Year 2100

From Bismarck Brief, March 13:

Fewer Than One Billion Indians

Falling fertility rates and preferences mean India's population will peak sooner than expected. By the end of the 21st century, there will likely be fewer than one billion Indians.

The population of India is thought to have surpassed China’s in April 2023, making India the world’s most populous country with a population of over 1.4 billion people.1 This is more than the combined populations of North America and Europe. This huge population, together with the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and significant regional military influence, has led many, over the decades, to predict that India will become a global superpower rivaling China and the United States. Despite long-term economic underperformance relative to China and other high-growth East Asian countries, India is often heralded as a potential global economic powerhouse due to its relatively youthful population and lowered fertility, resulting in a lower dependency ratio and an expected economic “demographic dividend” from the higher ratio of productive working-age people.2 The median age as of 2023 is 29.5 years old, compared to 38.5 in the United States and 39.8 in China.3

The total fertility rate, at 2.07 children per woman, is very close to the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman—much higher than China’s rate of 1.09 or the United States’ rate of 1.66.4 The highest projections predict over 2 billion Indians by 2100, with India remaining the most populous country in the world, perhaps followed in the rankings by African countries like Nigeria. But these figures bely a much less certain future. India’s total fertility rate has fallen rapidly over the last decade and is likely to be well below replacement in the next decade. Indian elites have historically favored population control, and still do, with outright sterilization long being one of the most widespread forms of contraception. Rather than reaching 2 billion people by the end of the century, the population is more likely to peak at 1.5 billion by 2050 and begin falling thereafter, and will plausibly be below 1 billion by 2100. 

Despite India’s projected rapid aging and fertility crash, its demographics should not be a barrier to industrialization. Over 70% of the workforce is still rural and over 40% continues to work in low-value agricultural jobs.5 Underemployment is the norm rather than the exception across the Indian workforce, and female labor force participation is still only around 30%.6 This labor reserve numbering in the hundreds of millions is sufficient to drive industrialization if the institutional factors blocking Indian development are resolved. There is also plenty of room for catch-up growth: per capita incomes, adjusted for purchasing power parity, were a little under half of those of China as of 2019.7 But should India successfully mobilize this workforce, industrialize, and become wealthier, all previous cases point to even a further reduction in fertility and as a consequence a much-accelerated graying of the country.

India’s Population is Likely to Peak Soon
India is something of a demographic anomaly. It has the high marriage rate and early age at first birth of a low-income high-fertility country—the average Indian mother gives birth to her first child at just over 21 years of age—but the lower fertility rates characteristic of much richer nations. Fertility rates in the richest Indian states, such as Goa, are very similar to those in notoriously low-fertility countries such as Japan. India’s low-fertility states are disproportionately in the country’s richer and more industrialized southern regions, while the high-fertility states are typically poorer, more rural, and located in the north.

Bihar, the highest-fertility state, with a total fertility rate of 3.0, fits this description, as does Meghalaya, which has the second-highest at 2.9. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous but second-poorest state, still has a total fertility rate of 2.4.8 Nevertheless, fertility rates across all states have fallen rapidly over the last three decades. In 1993, the fertility rate in Uttar Pradesh was 4.8, 4.0 in Bihar, and even 3.0 in Delhi. Today, Delhi has a total fertility rate of 1.6, comfortably below the replacement rate and close to the fertility rates of the United Kingdom and the United States.9


Still, nothing like what is going to happen in China: "How Serious Is China's Demographic Doom? Almost Beyond Comprehension."
  • Total population cut in half by 2100.
  • Working-age population collapsing 80% from the 2014 peak to the year 2100.