Good news: Population is falling

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The report of the Sample Registration System (SRS) for 2018 presents a new demographic picture which should change some conventional notions about population growth in the country. There has been about an 11 per cent decline in the birth rate in the last decade, from 22.5 in 2009 to 20.0 in 2018. The corresponding decline in rural areas is 24.1 to 21.6, and in urban areas, it is 18.3 to 16.7. It shows that the population will start falling in a large part of the country in the coming years, as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime, has fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 in those areas. There are 13 states in this group, which consists of all the southern states, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Odisha. The national average is 2.2. The TFR for Gujarat is 2.1 while it is above the replacement level in eight states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, which is the worst performer. These are also the states which have the largest populations and are the most socially and economically backward. The results of the SRS, conducted by the Registrar General of India, are supported by the UN’s population projections, which put the TFR at 2.2 in 2020 and 1.7 after 2050. The diminishing population growth is a result ofsocio-economic development, better accessto healthcare facilities and contraceptives and higher literacy, especially women’s literacy. The field investigation consists of a continuous enumeration of births and deaths in selected sample units by resident part-time enumerators, generally Anganwadi workers and teachers; and an independent retrospective survey every six months by SRS supervisors. The average TFR was 1.7 for graduate women, 1.8 -1.9 for those educated up to Class 12, 2.5 for those with primary education, and 3.0 among illiterate women. The key to population decline is the same across the country for all communities, castes and any social group. The laggard states are those that have performed badly in all these areas. The lesson, if it has to be learned again, is that it is education, health facilities and development that shrinks the size of families. Coercive measures and blunt disincentives do not help and sometimes become counterproductive. The results also put paid to the fears being voiced about runaway population growth in the country. The figures call for different policies to be adopted in different parts of the country, depending on the stage of growth or decline in particular areas. Planning should be made to counter the impact on the economy of population decline in some states. They may face labour shortages and other problems. Other social and economic consequences will also have to be reckoned with. The SRS report shows an increase in the median age. It means that more than half of India’s population is 25 years or older. This does not pose an immediate threat, but with the increase in the population of elderly people, there should be policies in place to take care of them.

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