Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

The depopulation alert


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Population and population decline trend


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  • Recently, when the world population touched eight billion, several headlines focused on how India was the largest contributor to the last billion and is set to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation by 2023. But missing in this conversation is the real threat of depopulation that parts of India too face, and the country’s complete lack of preparedness to deal with it.

Note: “The population and Population decline are continuously in the headlines which makes the population and associated topics important for the upcoming Mains Examinations.”

India’s Population trend

  • The total population of India currently stands at 1.37 billion which is 17.5% of the world population.
  • Between 1992 and 2015, India’s Total fertility rate (TFR) had fallen by 35% from 3.4 to 2.2.
  • Young people (15-29 age years) form 27.2% of the population in 2021. This made India enter the Demographic dividend stage.
  • The percentage of the elderly population has been increasing from 6.8% in 1991 to 9.2% in 2016.

What is depopulation?

  • The depopulation decline (also sometimes called population decline, underpopulation, or population collapse) in humans is a reduction in a human population size.
  • Over the long term, stretching from prehistory to the present, Earth’s total human population has continued to grow; however, current projections suggest that this long-term trend of steady population growth may be coming to an end.


The depopulation discussion and the missing links

  • Falling fertility rate and discussing reversal: Demographers, policy experts and politicians in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Europe, which are experiencing falling fertility and nearing the inflection point of population declines, are beginning to talk about what the future holds and whether reversal is possible.
  • The missing key elements in the conversation: Talking about equitable sharing of housework; access to subsidized childcare that allows women to have families as well as a career; and lowered barriers to immigration to enable entry to working-age people from countries which aren’t yet in population decline is missing.

Fertility in India

  • Falling fertility rate: It is now well-established that fertility in India is falling along expected lines as a direct result of rising incomes and greater female access to health and education. India’s total fertility rate is now below the replacement rate of fertility.
  • Many states are on the verge of population decline: Parts of India have not only achieved replacement fertility, but have been below the replacement rate for so long that they are at the cusp of real declines in population. Kerala, which achieved replacement fertility in 1998, and Tamil Nadu, which achieved this in 2000, are examples.
  • Decline in working age population: In the next four years, both Tamil Nadu and Kerala will see the first absolute declines in their working-age populations in their histories. With falling mortality (barring the pandemic), the total population of these States will continue to grow for the next few decades, which means that fewer working-age people must support more elderly people than ever before.

What is Replacement Level Fertility (RLF)?

  • Replacement level fertility is the level of fertility at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next.
  • In simpler terms, it denotes the fertility number required to maintain the same population number of a country over a given period of time.
  • In developed countries, replacement level fertility can be taken as requiring an average of 2.1 children per woman.
  • In countries with high infant and child mortality rates, however, the average number of births may need to be much higher.
  • RLF will lead to zero population growth only if mortality rates remain constant and migration has no effect.

A depopulating future and the challenges

  • Invisible trend because infuse of migrants: Access to working-age persons notably different from the situation in other States with low fertility. For instance, Delhi and Karnataka which are both net recipients of migrants, and will not confront population decline in the near future.
  • A skewed sex ratio remains a danger: As the latest round of the NFHS showed, families with at least one son are less likely to want more children than families with just one daughter.
  • Difference in education: The stark differences between northern and southern States in terms of basic literacy as well as enrolment in higher education, including in technical fields, will mean that workers from the southern States are not automatically replaceable.


  • With decades of focus on lowering fertility, the conversation in India is stuck in a rut. It is for the southern States to break away from this outmoded, data-free rhetoric and join the global conversation on depopulation. India’s cannot ignore the depopulation in the name of migration to meet its current labour needs.

Mains question

Q. What is depopulation, which has been a hot topic in recent times? Where do you see India in global population trends? Discuss.

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