The current populace of India reading this now, have largely known the country for being the second most populated country in the world. We cracked jokes on our fertility rate and population explosion till only last week (remember Vir Das’s 2 Indias speech!).
But India is staring at a watershed moment in its demographic history. You might need to update your facts and jokes here on, because India’s population is declining.
Here are the 8 major shifts you need to know from the National Family and Health Survey Data 2019-21 (NFHS-5):
1. FERTILITY RATE IS DECLINING IN INDIA
“We scoff at sexuality, but we f**k till we reach a billion people,” comedian Vir Das said in his 2 Indias speech, which resulted in much outrage.
Well, Vir Das meant the last part in reference to India’s massive population. But that argument has been changing for a few years, and now we have data to back it.
According to NFHS-5 data, India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has fallen below the replacement level. Replacement level, which is set at 2.1, is a baseline which is required to balance number of births and deaths in a country. In other words, it is a state where the population neither grows nor declines, but remains stable.
And TFR refers to the number of children being born to a couple. The current TFR stands at 2, meaning on average a woman is giving birth to 2 children. It is down from 2.2 from five years ago, or 3.2 from 1989-99, or even 6 during the 1950s.
2. COUPLES ARE BEING MORE SAFE
There are some things that have contributed to a lower TFR. One of them is that couples being safer during sexual intercourse. According to NFHS-5 data, the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has gone up substantially, from 54% to 67% pan-India. Men and women of reproductive age are using modern contraceptive methods.
3. WOMEN STILL BEAR THE FAMILY-PLANNING BURDEN
The bad news amid all this is that women are finding themselves taking up the burden of family planning more than men. Female sterilisation has increased from 36% to 38% since 2015-16. Men need to shoulder more responsibility and perhaps this is why we need sex education in schools.
4. MORE CHILDREN ARE BEING BORN IN HOSPITALS
Hospital births in India also increased to 89% from the earlier 79%. It means that less births are happening at home, which are often dangerous for the health of the mother and the child. In fact, in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, institutional births are at a 100%.
5. CHILD MARRIAGE IN DECLINE
Girl child marriage, that is women being married off before they attain 18 years of age, has decreased from 26% to 23%. However, 1 in every 4 women in India are still getting married before 18 years of age.
6. INDIA’S ‘MISSING WOMEN’ FOUND?
Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen in a 1990 essay wrote about the ‘missing women’ of India, in reference to the skewed sex ratio back then. At the time, female infanticide and a preference for having a son was rampant in India.
Now, the NFHS-5 data has revealed that India has more women than men. There are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. However, it doesn’t mean that the female infanticide problem in India has been solved. The favourable ratio could be because women tend to outlive men.
Also, the gender ratio at birth is still 929 girls to 1,000 boys as per the latest survey.
7. INDIA’S POPULATION IS NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER
India has one of the largest populations of young people. But it is not going to last long. The NFHS-5 Part 1 fact sheet released last year estimated that the demography will not be young by 2036; the rate might be faster for South Indian states. The proportion of people under the age of 24 will fall to 34.7% by 2036. This means India has a very narrow window of opportunity to harness the power of young people in workforce.
8. INDIA IS STARVING
On the downsides to all the fantastic findings of the NFHS data, is the percentage of anaemic and obese children and adults. India’s nutritional indicators have actually worsened since NFHS-4.
Percentage of anaemic children under 5 years of age increased 67% from 58%, meaning 3 out of 5 children in India are anaemic. Percentage of malnourished children increased from 2.1% to 3.4%.
Percentage of anaemic women increased to 57% from 53% and among men, it increased from 22% to 25%. Guess that Global Hunger Index wasn’t too far off the mark on India, despite the government claiming otherwise.
In the same India, obesity is also on the rise among adults. The percentage of women with obesity increased to 24% from 20% and among men, it rose to 22% from 18%.
BUT THEN, what we need to note when deriving any conclusion from the NFHS data is that it is a sample survey. Conclusions can be concretely derived only when these numbers corroborate the national census. It usually does. Also, since half of the survey was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the real scenario of the fertility rate, contraceptive use or girl-child marriage might vary.