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India’s population to be two billion in less than a century?

October 8, 2007

Our population was just about 350 million in 1947, (Independence), but today we are all of one billion plus. By 2050 we’ll add half a billion more, and in another fifty years, another half a billion. That’s the scenario even if our nation’s fertility steadily declines. According to a study by the Population Foundation of India and its partner, the Population Reference Bureau, even if we gradually achieve our target of:

1) a replacement level of 2.1 kids per couple, there will be two billion of us by 2101, a little less than a hundred years from now.
But if (a more optimistic scenario) we manage to go beyond get to
2) 1.85 kids per couple, we will fall short of the two billion mark by 2104 and the population will continue to decline thereafter.

These are just estimates, and the authors of the study have warned that they are not forecasts as long-term forecasts can be difficult. Besides, these estimates have not taken into account changes in demography due to gender selection or HIV/AIDS deaths.

Other studies have been shorter term, but their forecasts have been similar. The 2006 National Commission predicted that India’s population will rise to 1.40 billion by 2026 and the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) said that it will be anything between 1.37 to 1.55 billion by 2025. The UNPD’s projection for 2050 is between 1.39 to 1.96 billion.

Populations of some states will shrink
Today the national average per couple is about three kids, and while this is better than the 1950’s average of 6 kids, there are states which even today have an average of about 4.3 kids, Bihar for example. Kerala has an average of less than 2. Naturally, populations of states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu will start to shrink (the table is given at the end of the post) in another 50 years or so (seems a long time away!) and Kerala’s perhaps before that. Uttar Pradesh on the other hand, will become home to a quarter of all Indians…in less than a century.

But this change of demographics could well bring into play another unknown factor…when populations start to decline, governments start to offer incentives to increase the population. This could start to happen in the low population states, and if this happens, India’s population could swell to more than two billion in another hundred years.

In any case, these projections do not take into account natural disasters, mass migrations, war, disease or in fact any other external influencing factor.

Population density is the problem
Our land mass is smaller than China’s and that is a problem. China is heavily populated (1.3 billion in July 07), but as the map to the right shows, their population density is lower. And in any case, their population seems to be in control as the government is taking strong measures. Well, being a democratic nation, forcing people to adopt a one-child policy will never work here!

Can India cope?
Well, overpopulation is a condition “when an organism’s numbers exceed the carrying capacity.” Will India be able to carry its people? I don’t have an answer.
This is what happens with increasing population:
1. Destruction of natural habitats of many species.
2. Increasing number of deaths from illnesses associated to organic wastes.
3. Higher consumption of energy, and more pollution.
4. Shortage of water.
5. Possible increase in crime, hunger, and disease

This article also mentions the “release of millions of pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into our air and waterways.”
Amit has a good post on this subject. He’s written about pollution from synthetic cleaners and how the cleaners we use “contain toxic synthetic chemicals” and are not biodegradable. He writes:

That means once the cleaner made of synthetic chemicals is poured down the drain, instead of breaking down, it will remain in the ecosystem for many years, continuing to pollute the environment (soil and water) and cause damage.

Can you imagine two billion people doing this sort of thing…pouring tons and tons of poisonous stuff into the drains? I shudder to think of it! Time to go green as Amit suggests. There are some herbal cleaners available in India. And I think imported ‘green’ cleaners are also available in India now.

In fact the only way we can stop ourselves from being consumed by such a huge population is if we become more efficient in food production and manage our environment better. Well, I guess thats obvious!!

Just to tickle your brain, I want to leave you with a chart which gives an estimate of the share of the population of different states in the distant future. Note how population as a percentage of the whole starts to decrease at different times in the different states, while in some states it doesn’t.

(Thanks to Vivek Khadpekar for passing on the population study. Map is from the wiki and has been linked to the original. The photo of the street market is taken by me)

Related Reading: Galloping population and energy consumption
The world will be of mixed race one day
No toilets for half of India!
Poor people to police ratio
India is a growing consumer market!

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. amreekandesi permalink
    October 8, 2007 8:37 am

    interesting study! Though, one thing that comes to my mind is that in another hundred years, will we have water to drink, sufficient power, and will the land be able to feed so many people?

    An interesting corollary of this is the fact that India has a very low median age of 24 which means we have more young hands to solve the various problems. China’s, btw, is 34.

  2. October 8, 2007 8:52 am

    We have a lot of young people, true…
    but I think quality matters, not the quantity or the age! 🙂
    which brings me to another point…in my view a person can be productive well into his sixties…and most people are definitely productive until 60. Now is a young person of 25-35 years better than a fifty year old?
    Depends on the quality.
    Are more younger people better quality than older people? Now we come to a sticky question…but no, I don’t think so. It depends on the job. Certainly experience is required for taking strategic decisions.

  3. anuragsaurabh permalink
    October 8, 2007 9:42 am

    Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with old age. Nothing does – except wrinkles. It’s true, some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place. 🙂
    –Abigail van Buren

    Ah ! UP & BIHAR are again the biggest beneficiary…..I need to invest some more in Real estate….
    God’s own country will the best place..

  4. Bharath permalink
    October 8, 2007 9:47 am

    I think we should look at world’s current population growth rate which is about 1.14%(doubling time of 61 years), It was peaked in the 1960s at 2%(doubling time of 35 years).. It’s reducing b’coz of low growth rates in European countries.

    Generally Increased population represents problems for a country But Indian Population is turn out to be one of those plus factor which contributed a lot to our growing economy. Density is not going to be issue if Indians are distributed everywhere on this planet… he he 🙂 But yes overpopulation in a country is bad as they increase need for food, infrastructure, and services.

    President A P J Abdul Kalam’s Comment on Population:

    “The population of one billion should not be perceived as a problem, rather as an asset to kindle a multiplier effect, leading to a greater GDP”.

    Rejecting the common notion that population explosion in the country was its bane, President A P J Abdul Kalam saw its 540 million youth as the greatest asset India possessed for development.

    ”We have to only ensure that we convert the 540 million youth to form knowledge society through quality education. Knowledge society is the means through which we can bridge the gap between the rich and poor,”

  5. October 8, 2007 10:24 am

    Anuraag, true, grapes need to be good in the first place! 🙂 Education helps. We need to invest in the education sector far more than we are doing now.

    Bharath, Absolutely! We need 540 million youth who are educated!! Without that our ex-president’s dream will not come true.

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2007 12:20 pm


    //But this change of demographics could well bring into play another unknown factor…when populations start to decline, governments start to offer incentives to increase the population. This could start to happen in the low population states, and if this happens, India’s population could swell to more than two billion in another hundred years.//

    Governments offering incentives to increase the population is a phenomenon that has been known since at least the second quarter of the 20th century, if not earlier. Hitler did it in Nazi Germany, and the traumatic socio-psychological consequences of that are only now beginning to be recognised, studied and understood.

    In more recent times, some industrially and economically developed countries in Europe have embarked upon similar paths, though for different reasons than Nazi Germany. One of the important lessons of the latter half of the 20th century is that such incentives do not have significant impact as long as there is educational, social and economic empowerment of women.

    The nagging concern in the emerging postindustrial, postmodern, ruthlessly unbridled capitalistic world (with increasing insecurity of livelihoods for the majority of people) is the erosion of this empowerment, and of the security nets — traditional or governmental — that flows from such decline in empowerment. These threaten to negate whatever achievements have been made in the empowerment of the marginalised, and will inevitably lead to the kind of change in demographics that you apprehend.

    Another factor, crucial to India, is that the present number of statewise seat allocations in Parliament have been pegged to past population levels (I forget the exact year) in those states. The cow belt, with its higher population growth rates than the “Madrasi” states, is naturally not happy with this, and are mounting pressures for the relaxation of the freeze. If parliament buckles under this pressure (which is not unlikely, given the majority that UP and Bihar already enjoy in number of seats), the “Madrasi” states are bound to feel tempted to offer incentives for increasing their populations; not that it will necessarily work, but desperation can sometimes drive people into stupid decisions against their own better judgment.

    The other thing is that the development in the “Madrasi” states attracts significant in-migration from the north. This phenomenon is evident in Gujarat and Maharashtra even in the interior areas. We also have the agitation in Assam against immigrant migrant labour from the Hindi-speaking states. This kind of backlash threatens to become more and more widespread.

    So, while there are no rational grounds to believe that population growth incentives, even if actually offered, will work, the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. The only way as I see it is to ruthlessly implement the population policy — such as it is — in the North, with very stiff penalties, not for individuals or families but for whole states.

  7. October 8, 2007 6:04 pm

    Nita: You will perhaps find this funny.

    The words of Vande Mataram as written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee originally referred to a population of 30 crores rather than 70 crores that the Lata Mangeshkar version has:

    Sapt koti kantha, kal kal ninaad karalaye..

    I suppose we will need an upgrade version soon.

    PS: I think Madhuri can confirm the original lyrics. She is a Bengali and well-read. 🙂

  8. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2007 8:17 pm


    A number of corrections/observations:

    1. “Saptakoti” stands for seven crore, not seventy crore.

    2. When Bankimchandra wrote the poem, this was the population of undivided Bengal, which included today’s Bangladesh, and possibly Orissa and Bihar.

    3. By the Lata Mangeshkar version I presume you mean the song from the 1940s or -50s movie Ananda Math, based on Bankimchandra’s novel (published 1882) of the same name, into which he incorporated the poem which he had written and published separately about a decade earlier. Subsequent to that the words indeed have been revised more than once.

    4. The current commonly sung (when it is sung at all) and written version goes “koti-koti kantha”. I do not know when this was done and whether it is officially recognised as such (it should not really matter, as the “national song” comprises only the first two stanzas; the line in question is in the third stanza). But if you look for it on the net, you will find it mainly on sites maintained or funded by Hindutvavadi NRI organizations. This is to preempt objections by incorrigible people like me, of the kind advanced at # 2 above.

  9. October 8, 2007 8:44 pm

    Thanks Vivek. Yes, the in-migrations will strengthen as a phenomena and I think in another hundred years we will have a more mixed population than we have today.
    I guess the rest of the world will be scared of this phenomena too! As more Indians will migrate out…
    so many Indians!!

    Shefaly, thanks. That was an interesting note.

  10. October 8, 2007 8:59 pm

    This sounds quite alarming.
    However, I think these statistics are based on current trends which might drastically change. Education is one thing that can influence population growth….
    Who knows. There might be a100,000 Nitas in the future. lol

    As long as there are a 100,000 Anil’s I am sure the Nitas will be happy. (anil is my hubby’s name!) 🙂

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2007 9:11 pm

    Nita: Yes, a more mixed population, with languages, cuisines and other dimensions of culture besides the North Indian exterminated. A homogenised population shaped by the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan philosophy.

  12. October 8, 2007 9:14 pm

    Contrary to Shefaly’s assumptions, My ignorance does not allow my brain to remember more than the first stanza of Vande Mataram. 😀
    So thanks Vivek for enlightening me.
    Shefaly, i love the fact that you always put in a new thought to all the comments..
    I love the healthy debates in this blog.
    Nita, i thank you for providing us with thought provoking write ups importantly with a lot of evidence.
    I was going to say that diseases, crime rate and natural disasters have a way of balancing mortality rates but that has already been covered in this section.

    Thanks Madhuri. Its lovely to have you here too to be part of the discussion! 🙂 – Nita.

  13. October 8, 2007 9:40 pm

    Vivek, I am not sure this will happen. As people’s culture comes under threat, they start to do something about it. Don’t we have the Shiv Sena here? I do not agree with their methods at all, in fact I abhor their methods, but they have come up precisely because the marathi manoos is under threat. So no, I don’t think the extermination will happen…at least not for all cultures. Certainly never for Tamilians!! Never for Bengalis!
    And if Maharashtrians culture is exterminated, I am coming around to the view that they deserve it for not doing anything about it!

  14. October 8, 2007 9:43 pm

    Vivek: Thanks. I was going by my memory of the Lata Mangeshkar version. I have never seen it written down and except for linking to verifiable news and science articles, I am quite wary of using unverifiable websites to make my point (that also increasingly means Wikipedia for me, which I never got around to using much to begin with).

    So it seems now we need the Nth version, no? 🙂

    Madhuri: Thanks. It is not always a great idea to see things differently.. 😦 I suffer socially (in real life) due to this characteristic, although consulting clients love this way of problem framing and solving.

    I think on disease and mortality I would add this. Exercises in mortality and longevity projections while reliant on statistics are also highly subjectively skewed by trends and their social interpretation.

    In 2005, Olshansky et al wrote a paper in NEJM where they said despite medical advancement which has made possible a greater longevity, the current generation of children in the US would be the first one in modern times NOT to outlive its parents. This would be mainly down to obesity and resulting co-morbidities and premature mortality. Much brouhaha ensued, predictably…

    So with Indian population I suppose. There are advancements in longevity and it may appear we are beyond the Malthusian paradigm of natural and disease-based checks and balances. However changing work practices and a society that cannot realistically adjust as rapidly would probably have their own effects on health, productivity and mortality.

    The assumption underlying all this is that humans have reached their biological maximum. A SENS group based in Cambridge would wildly argue that this is not the case. They are looking at mitochondrial pathways to control aging and hence mortality..

    Sorry for the digression but I suppose in some ways these threads will converge.


  15. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2007 9:45 pm


    I forgot to make the most fundamental point in the Vande Mataram post —

    that Bankimchandra’s “mataram” was in fact undivided Bengal. That it refers to India is a later construct of the nationalsists

  16. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2007 9:57 pm


    The trouble is, barring a few oddballs like me, no Maharashtrian sees Hindi as a threat to Marathi cultural identity. Even the Shiv Sena, in its early days, went hammer-and-tongs against the “Madrasis” who supposedly deprived Ghatis of those highly cherished clerical jobs — conveniently forgetting that it was a Ghati CM of the erstwhile Bombay State (or may be PM of Bombay province — this has to be checked) who, by all but abolishing the study of English, deprived a whole generation of Maharashtrians of the opportunity to compete on even ground? So why did the SS pick on the “Madrasis” if they filled up a vacuum? And the same SS went crawling on all fours to lick the boots of the Hindiwalas.

  17. October 8, 2007 10:04 pm

    I think there are those who do…but whether they will suceed in doing anything I don’t know.
    but in any case I do not think any culture will be exterminated. Look at Goa for example.
    Sure, some sort of domination will happen, there will be minorities but even minorities can raise their voice and have a say.
    In fact at times I feel that English might take over…very long-term. Maybe 200 years. I don’t know. Just a thought.

  18. October 8, 2007 10:05 pm

    Nita, wow. Thanks for linking back to my post. I just wanted to add a quick link to what exactly “biodegradable” means and how it’s defined in the context of chemical cleaners, as it gives a better understanding of the term and some factors associated with it. I also have the link in my original post.

  19. Sravani Roy permalink
    October 17, 2007 7:48 am

    The India China comparison about population density can be seen in another way. Most of China’s population is concentrated in the eastern third of the country. So the population density of the livable areas of China is roughly similar to that of India. Yet if we see pictures of modern Chinese cities and crumbling Indian cities (thanks to anti urban polices of the socialist elite ruling class of India) we will notice how empty the Chinese pavements look compared to cow, pig, dog and human filled Indian streets. The question is why? It is because thanks to socialism, India has a huge majority of people who are dirt poor (thanks to desi style socialism) . These people are all out on the streets looking for work on living out in the open. They have nothing else to do but produce more children as insurance for their exploited lives under Indian socialism. Their Chinese counterparts on the other hand are all busy working in mega factories supplying the world. They are making money, living a good life and rising up the ladder if progress. In India, Indian socialists hail China’s industrial progress but in India they oppose industrialization in the name of environment and exploitation. As long as the Indian socialist elite hold back India in the name of socialism, there is little hope for India.

  20. Vikram permalink
    July 8, 2008 10:30 am

    Nita, you cant go by just land area alone, its arable land and water resources that matter the most. And India has more of both than any country apart from the US and Canada. Rapid population increases have more to do with increasing life expectancy and decreasing infant mortality than one or two child policies. You will notice that both UP and Bihar have very high infant mortality rates and low life expectancies compared to Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

    Vikram, ofcourse, no denying that. The reason for population increase are socio-economic and overall quite complex. – Nita.

  21. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 8, 2008 11:59 am


    Thanks to Vikram for reviving this post. It provided an opportunity to look closely at your table. It is interesting that except for the usual suspects — UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, NCR — and an unexpected Arunachal, Sikkim and a couple of minute UT’s, the share of most of the states in the total population is slated to either decrease or remain stable.

    There are some problems with this.

    Firstly, such projections are usually based on what demographers call Natural Increase (i.e. births minus deaths); they do not factor in migration, which is impossible to reliably project at subnational levels by statistical methods (except in countries like China, where it is [?was?] strictly controlled by the State).

    Secondly, the economically more vibrant states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, TN, Karnataka etc. are bound to attract more migrants because of the livelihood opportunities they offer, resulting in greater population increase than projected, despite a decline in rates of Natural Increase.

  22. Guqin permalink
    July 8, 2008 12:10 pm

    // …China, where it is [?was?] strictly controlled by the State //

    Just a side note: The one-child policy only applies to Han people, minorities such as Tibetans, Mongols, Hui etc. are not affected by this population control policy. But Han makes up about 90% of the population ( I believe).

  23. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 8, 2008 1:26 pm


    The fragment you quote from my comment pertains to internal migration, not to the one-child policy. What you say about the latter is, of course true. Further, I understand that it is more strictly enforced in urban centres than in rural areas. However, with the group affected accounting for such an overwhelming proportion of the total population, the demographic impact of it will, within the space of two or three generation, lead to serious imbalances in the sex ratio of China.

  24. Vikram permalink
    July 9, 2008 1:07 am

    @ Nita: True. The reason for my comment is that Indians in general seem to possess a huge scarcity mentality, especially in the big cities. I just wanted to dispel this much propagated myth of overpopulation simply based on land area, it is more linked to arable land. In any case, we dont use a lot of our arable land very well, especially in UP, MP and Bihar. Actually, the NYT recently carried an article about this.

    @ Vivek: ‘Secondly, the economically more vibrant states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, TN, Karnataka etc.’ Here’s the thing migrants dont usually migrate to states, they migrate to cities. So, in Maharashtra although there are migrants in Pune and Nagpur, the situation is not like Mumbai, which is a city of migrants. Same goes for Karnataka. Also, I believe that the majority of migrants are temporary. The NYT article above talks abt Bihari and Nepali workers who work in Punjab for half the yr and then in their own villages for the other half.

    @Guqin: Sex-ratio is an enormous problem in India. But again it varies significantly from region to region, so North Western India (Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan) has low sex-rations while Southern India (Tamil Nadu, AP, Kerala) has high sex ratios. It is unrelated to income, Punjab and Haryana are relatively quite prosperous. Do you see such variations in China ? Do the minorities have a better sex ration than the Han ?

  25. Guqin permalink
    July 9, 2008 1:51 am

    I haven’t been back to China for years, so I am not well informed about this issue. But I think minorities shouldn’t have this problem in general since the one-child policy doesn’t apply to them, and most of them don’t seem to have traditions that discriminate women. I have heard that sex-ratio disbalance is quite serious among Han people. And I heard that it is more serious in the rural areas (with Han).

    It is a big irony that high cultures like Hindi India and Han China have this problem, but “lesser” cultures like Moso (a minority in China, a women run society) and the descendant nations of the Roman empire don’t suffer this problem. It is an embarrassment for us. However I also notice that in the modern west, women achieving equality by becoming men. But this is still the failure of feminility.

    I am a man myself, and regonize many weaknesses in women, but still, over all, I think women are better than men. I never understand why women are discriminated. Perhaps this discrimination against women is precisely reflecting the moral quality of men. I think I will be a man in Moso if there is a next life for me.

    However, China has two sides. Daoism is feminility friendly, and even with Confucianism, sometimes women take control behind the family doors while their husbands pretend strong to outsiders. And Chairman Mao’s “Ladies hold up half of the sky” movemnet has help quite significantly.

  26. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 9, 2008 5:30 am


    //…migrants dont usually migrate to states, they migrate to cities…//

    In the context of the present discussion (i.e. migration in search of livelihoods), this is a rather dated concept. At least in Maharashtra and Gujarat — I don’t know enough about Karnataka — “development” is now spreading beyond the big cities even into rural areas. There are abundant labour opportunities for both seasonal [“temporary”] migrants in particular segments of commercial (mainly cash crop) agricultural cycles, and for permanent labour in (mainly) agro-based industries.

    With sophisticated engineering industries in these two states also locating increasingly in remote areas (with or without incentives) there is also migration on an unprecedented scale of semiskilled and skilled workers to interior areas, including a sizeable white-collar workforce.

    The above argument apart, even where migrants go to particular cities and not to the states where those cities are, as far as the statistics cited by Nita go, they are enumerated as part of the population of the state, not of the city. In fact, until a couple of decades ago, the urbanisation-related statistics of Maharashtra were considerably distorted by the inclusion of Mumbai in the state figures. This is no longer all that true for Maharashtra. It may now apply to Karnataka.

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