India’s fertility rate drops below the replacement level

Mumbai, the second-largest city in India. Photo credit: Alamy.

By Anders Lorenzen

In a major environmental victory, the fertility rates in the country that is soon to be the world’s most populous, India, has dropped below 2.1 – which is the number considered to be the replacement rate. This means that roughly the same amount of people are born each year as the amount that dies.

The drop below 2.1 means that the country’s population will now peak ten years earlier, that is, in 30 years rather than in 40 years, and at 1.6 billion instead of 1.7 billion.

Meanwhile, the fertility rate in the world’s current most populous country, China, is at an all-time low at 1.3 children per family. This is despite the Chinese government, in a panicky move, having not only abandoned its one-child policy but increased it to two children per woman and now to three. This policy has not yet made an impact and the big question is if it ever will.

The data from the world’s two most populous countries and two of the most rapidly growing economies tells us that as more people move to cities, more women enter education and the jobs market and the household incomes go up, and so the appetite for large families decreases.

An end to population explosion?

In India, it is a success for the government as they had long worked hard to bring down its growing population through measures such as family planning. While China did initially bring in place its one-child policy to bring down the country’s then out of control population numbers, the Chinese government is now starting to worry that its population will shrink too much and that it will impact the number of workers needed to feed its growing economy.

Many environmentalists have for long worried that the world’s growing population means environmental disaster, and the growing demand for energy and food and other resources will come at a cost for not only the environment but also action on climate change. For instance, a large portion of the growth of low-carbon energy sources would be outpaced by the growth of demand for more energy resources. 

In a populous country like India where land is becoming more scarce nature and wildlife often compete for land with humans, and both nature and wildlife lose out. In recent years air pollution has become a common problem in India’s major cities with the increase in road building resulting in more cars on the roads.  In addition to the development of new coal plants is having devastating impacts on not only people but also the country’s ability to bring down its emissions.

So while the world’s population continues to grow that growth is slowing down which will please many environmental campaigners and activists.  And if the current trend continues amongst young people reaching child-bearing age the prospects are indeed looking good for not only stabilising world population but for it also to start to decrease.

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