New Delhi: Earlier this month, The Lancet medical journal published a study that projects population trends for the rest of this century, titled ‘Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: A forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study’.
For India, the study predicts a peak population of 1.6 billion, or 160 crore, in 2048, up from 1.38 billion (138 crore) in 2017. However, it goes on to state that though India will be the world’s most populous country in 2100, its population is set to decline to 1.09 billion, or 109 crore, a drop of 32 per cent from the projection for 2048.
The Lancet study comes in the backdrop of fears and misgivings in India about a possible runaway population growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in his 2019 Independence Day speech, said a “population explosion” is a national challenge, and called upon the central and state governments to implement population control policies, also saying that having fewer children is an “act of patriotism”.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha introduced a private member’s bill seeking to enforce a two-child norm. The Population Regulation Bill, 2019, advocated giving incentives to those adopting the small family practice and penalties for those who didn’t.
Speaking on World Population Day, 11 July, Union minister Giriraj Singh had also advocated a population control law. Singh had, in 2018, stated that “one particular community” was responsible for increasing India’s population.
However, The Lancet study could reduce such anxieties, as it indicates that India’s Total Fertility Rate (the average number of children born to each woman) could decline steeply to 1.29 by 2100 from 2.14 in 2017, which itself was a far-cry from 5.6 in 1950.
The study, led by a team of researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), analysed population trends in 195 countries. It used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017, to model future population in various scenarios as a function of fertility, migration, and mortality rates.
“Changing population size and age structure might have profound economic, social, and geopolitical impacts in many countries. We developed novel methods for forecasting mortality, fertility, migration, and population. We also assessed potential economic and geopolitical effects of future demographic shifts,” the researchers said.
The analysis projects world population to peak at 9.73 billion in 2064, and decline to 8.79 billion in 2100. It says 23 countries, including Japan, Thailand, Italy and Spain, are likely to witness their populations shrink by more than 50 per cent.
The top five most populous countries in the world in 2100 will be India (1.09 billion), Nigeria (791 million), China (732 million), USA (336 million) and Pakistan (248 million).
The study also projects that 183 of the 195 countries will have TFRs below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. Replacement level is the level of fertility needed at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next. The global TFR is predicted to steadily decline from 2.37 in 2017 to 1.66 in 2100.
It says advancement in female education attainment and access to contraceptives would speed up the decline in fertility and stabilise population growth.
“Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come,” the study states.
Decline in working-age population
The study also predicts huge shifts in the global age structure, with an estimated 2.37 billion individuals over 65 years of age in 2100, compared to 1.7 billion under 20. India, too, will see a huge change in the age profile of its population.
The number of working-age adults (20-64 years) in India is expected to decline to about 580 million in 2100 from 762 million in 2017. However, even the reduced number will be the largest working-age population in the world, followed by Nigeria, China and the US.
China’s working-age population could also decline to 357 million from 950 million, and according to the researchers, this trend could hamper economic growth and lead to global power shifts.
“Our findings suggest that the ratio of the population older than 80 years to the population younger than 15 years will increase in countries with more than 25 per cent population decline, from 0.16 today to 1.50 (0.54-3.25) in 2100. These population shifts have economic and fiscal consequences that will be extremely challenging. With all other things being equal, the decline in the numbers of working-aged adults alone will reduce GDP growth rates,” the study states.
NGO Population Foundation of India (PFI) commented on the study, saying that as the working age population declines in India, there will be a huge burden on the government’s resources — due to reduced taxes — and the economy, which could face challenges in supporting a “dependent older population”.
“Limited resources will transfer the burden on to the shrinking working age population to support the healthcare and social security of their dependent elderly population,” the PFI noted in a statement accompanying a press release on The Lancet study.
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