According to data from the United Nations, India is on track to surpass China as the world’s most populous country by June 2023. India’s population is projected to reach 1.4286 billion, approximately 2.9 million more than China’s 1.4257 billion. The two Asian countries have represented over a third of the global population for over seven decades.
China’s birth rate has recently plummeted, decreasing its population last year for the first time since 1961. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) State of World Population Report’s forecast for India is estimated, as no census has been conducted in the country since 2011. The 2021 census was cancelled due to Covid and rescheduled for 2022, but it has now been postponed again to 2024.
The UN’s Chief of Population Estimates and Projection, Patrick Gerland, said that any numbers regarding India’s actual population size are “naïve assumptions based on fragmentary information,” as no official data is available. Furthermore, the UN’s estimate does not account for the populations of China’s Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macau, or Taiwan, totalling over 8 million people.
In November, the global population surpassed 8 billion, but experts note that growth has slowed considerably, reaching its lowest rate since 1950.
One of the primary reasons for India’s increasing population has been the difference in fertility rates between the two countries. Historically, India has had a higher fertility rate than China, which means that, on average, Indian women have more children than their Chinese counterparts. Over the past few decades, both countries have experienced a decline in fertility rates, but India’s rate has remained higher than China’s.
China’s strict population control measures, mainly the one-child policy implemented in 1979, significantly curbing population growth. The policy was relaxed in 2015, allowing couples to have two children, but the impact of this change on China’s population growth has been limited. In contrast, India has implemented various family planning initiatives, but it has never adopted a stringent policy like China’s one-child rule. This difference in approach has contributed to India’s higher fertility rates and overall population growth.
Another critical factor in India’s population growth is its age structure. India has a relatively young population, with a median age of around 28 years, while China’s median age is approximately 38 years. This youthful population means that there are more people in their reproductive years in India, which contributes to a higher number of births and subsequent population growth.
Rural-to-urban migration has been another driving force behind India’s population growth. In search of better opportunities and higher living standards, millions of Indians have migrated from rural areas to urban centres, leading to rapid urbanization. While urbanization has also occurred in China, India’s urban population growth has been more pronounced. The increased population density in cities has contributed to higher fertility rates in urban areas, further fueling population growth.
Socio-cultural factors have also played a role in shaping the population trends of both countries. In India, there has been a preference for larger families, particularly in rural areas, where children are often seen as economic assets which can contribute to the household income. Furthermore, the preference for male children has led some families to continue having children until they have a son, contributing to higher fertility rates.
A UNFPA-commissioned survey found that most Indians believe their population is too large and fertility rates too high, with nearly two-thirds of respondents citing economic concerns related to population growth. However, demographers argue that India’s population overtaking China’s should not be seen as a concern but as a symbol of progress and development, as long as individual rights and choices are respected, as stated in the UN report.