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India’s population could peak at 1.6 billion in 2048: Study

India’s population will peak at 1.6 billion in 2048, after which it will steadily decline to 1.09 billion in 2100, according to an analysis that covered 195 countries in the Global Burden of Diseases 2017 study, findings that hold mixed economic as well as social implications for the country.

According to the study, which was published in The Lancet journal, the world’s population will peak at 9.73 billion in 2064, after which it will shrink to 8.79 billion in 2100. The projections set the population peak at about 2 billion lower than the UN Population Division’s estimate of 10.9 billion at the end of the century.

Both China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, will register population peaks before 2050, following which they will post sharp declines. In 2100, China’s population will be 51.1% of its peak population, and India’s will be down to 68.1% of its peak, said the analysis.

The population of sub-Saharan Africa will triple from an estimated 1.03 billion in 2017 to 3.07 billion in 2100. North and the Middle East is the only other region forecast to host a larger population in 2100 than in 2017, with Asia and Eastern Europe recording the steepest declines. The populations of at least 23 countries, including Japan, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Portugal and South Korea, could decline at least 50%.

“Our forecasts for a shrinking global population have positive implications for the environment, climate change, and food production, but possible negative implications for labour forces, economic growth, and social support systems in parts of the world with the greatest fertility declines,” said the study.

Older population

The global age structure will shift dramatically, with 2.37 billion people aged above 65 years in 2100, compared with 1.7 billion under 20 years, which underscores the need for liberal immigration policies in countries with significantly declining working age populations.

“The decline in the numbers of working-age adults alone will reduce GDP {gross domestic product} growth rates that could result in major shifts in global economic power by the century’s end… While population decline is potentially good news for reducing carbon emissions and stress on food systems, with more old people and fewer young people, economic challenges will arise as societies struggle to grow with fewer workers and taxpayers, and countries’ abilities to generate the wealth needed to fund social support and health care for the elderly are reduced,” said first author Stein Emil Vollset,a professor at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US.

In 2100, India will have the world’s largest working-age population of 578 million in the world, followed by Nigeria, China and the US. Although the number of working-age adults in India is projected to fall from 762 million in 2017, it is expected to be one of the few – if not the only – major power in Asia to protect its working-age population over the century to rise up the GDP rankings from the seventh to third, said the report.

India is also forecasted to have the second largest net immigration in 2100, with an estimated half a million more people immigrating to the country in 2100 than emigrating.

“To fully reap the benefits of this large working age population, called in demographic terms, the demographic dividend, it is critical to invest in quality health and adaptive education that empowers and equips young people to meet the needs of the job market,” said Argentina Matavel Piccin, UNFPA Representative to India.

“The diverse fertility situations in the states combined with the inter-regional population dynamics in India present unique opportunities, which can be turned into a powerful engine for the overall socio-economic development, if a differential planning approach is adopted. Very few countries in the world boast of such a scenario of a significant staggered demographic transition. India can afford to fill shortage of labour in one part of the country with migrants from another part, hence reducing the usual cultural adaption periods that most cross-country and cross-continent migrants must go through before they can fully contribute to host countries,” added Piccin.

Small families

The global total fertility rate (TFR is the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime) is predicted to decline from 2.37 in 2017 to 1.66 in 2100, which is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman.

India’s TFR declined to below 2.1 in 2019, and is projected to have a continued steep fertility decline until about 2040, reaching a TFR of 1.29 in 2100, said the report.

“The sustained decline in population size is an obvious outcome of educating and empowering women along with meeting their contraceptive needs and choices. Family planning services are likely to have an economic impact for families that extends beyond the reductions in fertility and improvements in health to many other aspects of their lives. If women’s needs for family planning and reproductive healthcare are met, along with other basic health and education needs, then population stabilization will be achieved naturally, not as a matter of control or coercion,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, New Delhi.

Liberal immigration policies could help maintain population size and economic growth even as fertility falls, said the study, which notes that some countries, such as the US, Australia, and Canada, are likely to maintain their working-age populations through net immigration.

“We need a fundamental rethink of global politics. Greater multilateralism and a new global leadership should enable both migrant sending and migrant-receiving countries to benefit, while protecting the rights of individuals. Nations would need to cooperate at levels that have eluded us to date to strategically support and fund the development of excess skilled human capital in countries that are a source of migrants…. The projected changes in the sizes of national economies and the consequent change in military power might force these discussions,” said Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, University College London, UK, and Chair of Lancet Migration (who was not involved in the study), in a linked comment.

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