India would be the world’s most populated country next year, surpassing China, a report by the United Nations said on Monday.
“India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country during 2023,” said the World Population Prospects 2022 by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
In 2022, India’s population will only be slightly lower (at 1.412 billion) than China’s (1.426 billion), according to the report.
And in 2050, the country is projected to have a population of 1.668 billion – way ahead of China’s 1.317 billion.
The UN estimates exceed those presented in July 2020 by a technical group of population projections constituted by the National Commission on Population (NCP), an Indian government panel. That report showed that India’s population will stand at 1.37 billion in 2022 and 1.39 billion in 2023, and that the country will have a population of 1.41 billion only by 2025.
Amitabh Kundu, member of that committee and now a fellow at the World Resources Centre, told Business Standard, “Our model was quite robust as far as population projections were concerned. We have taken very rigorous care. Projections made by the expert group are much more reliable than UN’s World Population Prospects. The UN’s projections are based more on macro considerations, whereas Indian demographic projections are far more robust.”
He, however, agreed that India’s population would surpass China’s by next year. “It is not surprising since the rate of population growth in India is much higher than in China at the moment,” he said. “We had thought then (when the committee prepared its report) that India will certainly overtake China this year or at the beginning of next year. It is a reality.”
The technical committee projected India’s population to increase from 1.21 billion in 2011 to 1.52 billion in 2026 – a jump of 25.7 per cent in 25 years at a rate of one per cent annually.
Implications for India’s economic development
Former chief statistician Pronab Sen told Business Standard that at a macro level, the bigger a country’s population, the more the number of people it has to support.
This means that people’s productivity will have to increase for any given per capita income, he said.
What is more significant, however, is the share of working-age people in the total population.
The UN report did not mention the working-age population country-wise, but said the proportion of the working-age group will continue to increase for some time in central and southern Asia as well as in northern Africa and Western Asia. In these regions, the working-age population will start declining only by 2045.
Sen, who is now programme director at International Growth Centre, said India has a much higher proportion of working-age people than China, and that is why it is expected to have a demographic dividend.
Also significant is the labour force participation rate (LFPF), which is the proportion of the working-class willing to work. Sen said the LFPR stands at 42 per cent in India against over 65 per cent in China. This is mainly because of low female LFPR in India, which is around 25 per cent only.
This is the reason why policies will have to be well-thought out. “If you make policies that raise female LFPR without increasing total employment, then by definition a few men are going to be unemployed… So you require policies to increase jobs, and then prevail upon women to come out to join the labour force,” Sen said.
The UN report also said that the world’s population is projected to touch eight billion by mid-November 2022.
The global population is growing at its slowest rate since 1950, having fallen under one per cent in 2020, it said.
The world’s two most populous regions in 2022 were Eastern and Southeastern Asia, with 2.3 billion people, representing 29 per cent of the global population; and Central and Southern Asia, with 2.1 billion, representing 26 per cent of the total world population.
China and India accounted for the largest populations in these regions, with more than 1.4 billion each in 2022.
More than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.
Pakistan, the UN projects, will be the fifth most populous country in 2022.
The report estimated that 10 countries experienced a net outflow of more than 1 million migrants between 2010 and 2021.
In many of these countries, these outflows were due to temporary labour movements. For instance, Pakistan witnessed net outflow of -16.5 million during 2010-2021; India (-3.5 million); Bangladesh (-2.9 million); Nepal (-1.6 million); and Sri Lanka (-1 million).