Open Knowledge: India conducted its decadal census in 2011. What are the most important findings?
K.S. James: The first major finding is that the population growth rate is declining but it is still high enough to indicate that the Indian population is likely to grow substantially for the coming few decades. The Indian population will touch 1.7 or 1.8 billion. Stabilization will come only after 2050-2070.
Second, there are also large variations in the growth rate across regions. While southern states are actually recording substantial dips in fertility and growth rates we still have high growth rates in northern parts of the country.
So there is a demographic divide within India?
That’s right. The southern states now have negative growth in the 0-14 age group which is spreading slowly into the 15-24 group as well. The age profile of these states is bulging in the working adult age group.
This is different from the picture we get for the northern states, especially the high population states Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar which constitute nearly 40 percent of the Indian population. Here some change is occurring but far less compared to other states.
Can India provide enough jobs for the ‘bulge’ of working age Indians?
Currently the 15-64 age group is around 65 per cent of the population—India's baby boom generation. One view says that this growing young population means we will have a demographic dividend leading to economic growth.
But unlike in the West socio-economic development didn’t precede demographic changes. So those people born 20-30 years back did not get adequate education. Their productivity levels and earning capacity are low. This is an unavoidable transition phase of Indian history.
However, these people will likely have smaller families and so have strong intentions to educate their children and do the best for them.
Overall, what does India’s demographic profile look like?
India is in the last but one stage of the demographic transition from high fertility and mortality to low fertility and mortality. We are nearing replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per couple. Now India’s fertility rate is something like 2.6 children. It will take another 10 years or more to achieve 2.1 children.