Issues related to Economic growth

India’s Population Growth: Dividend or a Disaster?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India's population trends

Mains level: India's population growth analysis and a way ahead


Central Idea

  • India’s projected transition as the most populous country from China by mid-2023 presents opportunities for demographic advantage, but also requires focusing on the available demographic dividend. The population growth, size, and composition must be viewed from an empirical and scientific perspective to understand whether it is a dividend or a disaster.


India’s Population Projection

  • A UN report released on recently has provided the first official confirmation that India’s population is expected to surpass that of China by the middle of this year at the latest.
  • The annual State of World Population report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has pegged India’s mid-2023 population at 142.86 crore, marginally ahead of China’s 142.57 crore, which is 2.9 million higher than China’s population

What is State of World Population Report?

  • The report is an annual report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides a global overview of population trends and issues.
  • The report covers a wide range of topics related to the population, such as fertility, mortality, migration, family planning, and gender equality.
  • It also includes analysis and recommendations for policymakers and governments to address population challenges and promote sustainable development.
  • The report is widely regarded as a key reference for researchers, policymakers, and international organizations working on population and development issues.


How India’s Population growth can be a resource?

  • A larger workforce: A growing population means a larger workforce, which, if trained and employed, can contribute to economic growth and development.
  • Domestic market: A larger population can create a larger domestic market, which can drive economic growth by increasing demand for goods and services.
  • Innovation and technological advancements: A larger population can provide a greater pool of knowledge and expertise, and a more diverse range of perspectives and ideas, which can lead to innovation and technological advancements.
  • Investment in infrastructure: Population growth can create opportunities for investment in infrastructure, education, and health, which can further stimulate economic development.
  • Cultural richness: A larger population can lead to cultural richness and diversity. With a diverse population comes a range of languages, traditions, and cultural practices, which can contribute to a vibrant and dynamic society.
  • Diplomatic influence: A larger population can give a country greater diplomatic influence on the world stage. As one of the world’s most populous countries, India has significant diplomatic influence and can use its demographic size as a bargaining tool in international negotiations.

How India’s Population growth can be a Burden?

  • Strain on resources: A growing population can put a strain on natural resources, such as water, food, and energy. This can lead to environmental degradation, scarcity, and conflict.
  • Unemployment: A larger population can create a mismatch between the supply and demand of jobs, leading to high unemployment rates, particularly among young people
  • Poverty: Population growth can exacerbate poverty, particularly in rural areas and among marginalized communities. This can create social and economic inequality and limit access to education, healthcare, and other basic needs.
  • Overcrowding: A larger population can lead to overcrowding, particularly in urban areas. This can create poor living conditions, increased pollution, and health hazards.
  • Infrastructure: A growing population can put a strain on infrastructure, such as transportation, housing, and sanitation. This can lead to inadequate services and poor living conditions.
  • Health: A larger population can increase the spread of disease and illness, particularly in areas with poor healthcare infrastructure. This can lead to public health crises and decreased life expectancy.
  • Education: Population growth can put a strain on education systems, particularly in terms of providing quality education to all. This can limit social and economic mobility and contribute to inequality.
  • Migration: A larger population can lead to migration, particularly to urban areas, which can create social and economic challenges, such as increased crime rates and inequality.

Deeper outlook: Trends of population growth, size and composition

  • Replacement level fertility: With total fertility rate of 2.0 in 2023, India is already at replacement level fertility, meaning two children replacing their parents. This indicates that the population is on a path toward stabilisation.
  • Negative growth: India continues to experience positive growth, but in a decelerated mode until 2064, from which point it will become negative growth. The peak of India’s population size will be around 169.6 crore in 2063.
  • Working age population: Looking at the population composition of India, there are greater prospects for demographic dividend than a disaster. With 68% of the working age population in 2023, the country continues to have a demographic window of opportunity for the next 35 years to reap an economic dividend

Facts for prelims

Fertility Decline

  • According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS), fertility rate falling below the replacement level for the first time to 2.0 in 2021.dropped from 2.2 to 2.0.
  • Only five States have a fertility rate above the replacement rate: Bihar (3), Meghalaya (2.9), Uttar Pradesh (2.4), Jharkhand (2.3), and Manipur (2.2)
  • At the time of Independence, India’s fertility rate was six per woman, and it had taken 25 years to reach five, with the government launching the first ever family planning program in the world in 1952.
  • India’s fertility further declined to four in the 1990s when Kerala became the first State in India to have a fertility rate below replacement l
  • Increased use of contraception, more years of average schooling, better health care, and an increase in the mean marriage age of women are of the reasons behind the steady dip in fertility rate.


Mechanism to translate a demographic bonus to economic dividend

  • There are four key mechanisms that translate a demographic bonus to economic dividend:
  • Employment, 2. Education and skills, 3. Health conditions, and 4. Governance.
  • Job creation, education, skills generation, and ensuring a healthy lifespan are important channels that translate demographic opportunity into economic gains.
  • Good governance, reflected through conscientious policies, is another essential aspect for reaping demographic dividend.

Way ahead: India’s Demographic opportunity

  • India’s relatively younger population provides higher support ratios, with lesser disease, disability, and caring burden.
  • India has the potential to become a worldwide market for both production and consumption, with lower manufacturing costs due to a relatively cheaper workforce.
  • Available demographic opportunity in the form of a greater share of the working age population has the potential to boost per capita GDP by an additional 43% by 2061.
  • However, a total fertility rate of less than 1.8 may not be economically beneficial for India, and population control methods run the risk of inducing forced population aging.


  • While India’s demographic transition presents opportunities for demographic advantage, it must focus on reaping the available demographic dividend. The composition of India’s population presents prospects for demographic dividends, but certain mechanisms must be employed to translate demographic opportunity into economic gains. Policies that support an enabling environment that can provide high-quality education, good healthcare, respectable employment opportunities, good infrastructure, and gender empowerment are essential.

Mains Question

Q. India is set to surpass China as the most populous country in the mid 2023. This presents India an opportunity and a challenge of population growth. Analyze and suggest a way ahead to harness the potential of its working age population.

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