Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 04 April 2024

India’s fall in fertility rate may be a boon in disguise

Relevance: GS Paper I

Why in News?

The Lancet's report predicts India's total fertility rate (TFR) will decrease to 1.29 by 2051, based on demographic modelling for 204 countries, as part of the global burden of disease study. Although the estimate is within a range of 0.97 to 1.61, it provides valuable insights into India's population dynamics.

Changing population dynamics:

  • The UN Population Division projected that India's population would reach approximately 1.7 billion by 2065 before it started declining.
    • However, this large number has overshadowed the discussion about other relevant aspects, such as the age structure, quality of the population, and its contribution to economic growth.
  • The government's technical group estimated the population using a total fertility rate of 1.94 for the period 2021-2025, which is expected to decline to only 1.73 during 2031-2035.
    • However, these rates are higher than the Lancet's study indicated.
    • Moreover, the Lancet's study suggests an even higher fertility rate than the one estimated using NFHS 5 data.
  • The Asia 2050 report, prepared by the Asian Development Bank, predicts that the 21st century belongs to Asia, with India being a major actor.
  • All these findings indicate that India's population may stabilise below the projected 1.7 billion mark much earlier than 2065.

Factors contributed to a demographic transition in India:

  • The rapid pace of economic development has particularly been going on since the early years of the present century.
  • Lower infant and child mortality rates, reducing the need for a large family for old-age support.
  • Rise in women’s education and work participation rates.
  • Improvement in housing conditions.
  • Old-age security system.

Implications of demographic transition:

1. Dependency ratio dynamics:

  • As the total fertility rate (TFR) declines rapidly, the first impact is a decrease in the dependency rate and an increase in the proportion of working adults in the population.
    • The dependency ratio, which takes the young and the old as a fraction of the working-age population, is expected to rise from 13.8 in 2011 to 23 in 2036 for India.
    • This leads to an overall surplus of income, accelerating economic growth and promoting positive intergenerational transfers.
  • It is already being observed in China, Japan and some European countries.

2. Regional variations:

  • The decline in total fertility rate (TFR) is not uniform across all states in India, and it may take up to a decade for all states to reach replacement-level fertility. This is especially true for large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
    • Replacement-level fertility is essential for ensuring population stabilisation in the long run.
  • Moreover, there are significant inter-district variations in TFR across states.
    • For instance, Odisha, one of India's poorest states, is experiencing the fastest TFR transition. It will achieve TFR as low as 1.51 by 2036.
      • However, some districts like Kandhamal, Nabarangpur, and Rayagada in Odisha will still have TFR much above the replacement level, as per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 data.
  • Therefore, it would be premature to take an alarmist view of the TFR transition, even if it is somewhat faster than what was projected earlier.

3. Impact on labour productivity:

  • The demographic transition is expected to positively impact several states in the coming years by increasing labour productivity through three channels -
    • Firstly, the decrease in population growth will lead to an increase in the amount of capital resources and infrastructure available per capita.
    • Secondly, the decrease in fertility will allow resources to be redirected towards children's education and skill development rather than expanding coverage to achieve universalization.
    • Thirdly, it will affect the population's age distribution, increasing the proportion of the labour force in the population, though for a limited period, which will accelerate the overall economy's growth.

4. Educational implications:

  • A declining TFR will lead to a lower number of children enrolling in schools, as is already happening in states like Kerala.
    • This could improve educational outcomes without additional resources being spent by the state.
  • Attention must, however, shift to middle and higher education, where the drop-out rates are very high.
    • Substantial resources must be allocated to technical and professional education before the window of demographic opportunity closes.

5. Women's workforce participation:

  • With less time needed for childcare, one would expect more women to join the labour force in the coming decades
    • A major factor responsible for the low participation of women in the workforce is their engagement in childcare at an age when they should be in the labour force.
    • The larger share of women in MNREGA employment in the southern states is a pointer.

6. Sectoral and Spatial redistribution of workforce:

  • The shift of the workforce from agriculture to industries and services can help balance the sectoral distribution.
    • Most of the new workforce will come from the gradual decline of traditional activities.
  • The north-south migration of labour has become a significant factor in creating spatial balance in the labour market.
    • This trend will continue as modern sectors in southern states, Gujarat and Maharashtra, attract cheaper labour from northern states.
    • Over time, this will result in better working conditions, the elimination of wage discrimination for migrant workers, and the mitigation of security concerns in receiving states through institutional safeguards.
  • Reduced population will have serious implications for policy, particularly for skill development for women and other underprivileged groups.
    • Developing skills among SCs/STs and religious minorities can ensure no labour shortage in the growing modern sectors.


The Asia 2050 report emphasises workforce redistribution, skill development, and women's increased participation in work to compensate for the declining share of the working age group. However, improved life expectancy may lead to an increased burden of disease and elderly issues, resulting in high demand for healthcare facilities. India must accept these challenges and capitalise on opportunities ahead of schedule.


Prelims PYQ:

Q. India is regarded as a country With "Demographic Dividend". This is due to (UPSC 2011)

(a) Its high population in the age group below 15 years

(b) Its high population in the age group of 15-64 years

(c) Its high population in the age group above 65 years

(d) Its high total population


Mains PYQ:

Q. Discuss the main objectives of Population Education and point out the measures to achieve them in India in detail. (UPSC 2021)

Q. Critically examine whether growing population is the cause of poverty OR poverty is the mains cause of population increase in India. (UPSC 2015)

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