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Population Growth of India: Myths Vs Realities

Updated on September 2, 2019
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I have been a part of NGOs working in the field of population and poverty and am well aware of latest studies in these two fields.


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Population Explosion: Myth or Reality?

Indian population grew by 181 million during the decade 2001 - 2011. In percentage terms it is 17.6% per decade or 1.76% annual. It translates into an average increase of about 49,000 per day. To be fair, not all this increase is because people make more babies but includes immigration from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

The current Birth rate is about 20 births per 1000 population; in 2001 it was 24.3. It depends upon both the level of fertility and age structure of the population. The Death rate per 1000 is 7.48 compared with the figure of 8.74 in 2001. Both rates are gradually decreasing, indicating increasing level of social development

The size of the population is alarming for most people, specially for those living in the West. They dream nightmares and catastrophes thinking about the future and call it “Population Explosion” or a ticking “Population Bomb”. This originated in the US presidential election campaign of the 1960s and soon caught the fancy of people. The rhetoric is certainly scary; as all nightmares are! However, as daylight arrives the nightmares vanish.

The logic of this nightmare runs on these lines:: How the growing number of mouths will be fed in the future given the fast depletion of natural resources and limited food supply? Then there is another worrisome picture that comes from the issues of global warming and climate change. Increasing frequency of natural disasters (particularly untimely rains, sudden floods and droughts) is going to affect the food crop production.

The concern is logical. But a simple analysis of global consumption pattern tells where the problem lies. One only needs to look at the per capita consumption of everything in different countries. People in the most "developed" or rich countries consume the most, but the logic gets spilled over to the poor countries. It is made to look as if the increasing number of the poor will soon begin to eat away all the food on the planet. Certainly, the biggest threat to the planet'e well-being is not the growing population of poor people but the ever increasing consumption in the so-called developed nations.

I wonder why this simple fact does not get discussed by those who are worried about the future of the world? It is a fashion to blame the poor for every ill of the world.

Latest Religious Population Trend

The latest census data shows that the Hindu population dipped below 80% for the first time since 1947. It declined to 78.35% in 2011 from 80.45% in 2001. The Muslim population increased by 24% between 2001 and 2011, against the national average of 18% per decade, although the growth rate was smaller than 29% during the decade 1991 – 2001. Thus, share of Muslims in the total population increased from 13.4% to 14.2% over the decade. The highest rise was witnessed in Assam, from 30.9% in 2001 to 34.2% in 2011. It is, however, largely due to illegal influx of Bangladeshi immigrants.

The share of other religious groups like Sikhs and Christians remained steady: at a little over 2% each since 2001.

Trend among Religious Groups

An interesting fact of democratic and secular India is the falling population of the majority Hindus which is matched by the corresponding increase in the population of the Muslim community. It is because the use of modern methods of contraceptive is rather low among Muslims. The NFHS-3 data of 2005- 06 clearly revealed that the prevalence of modern contraception is the highest among Jains (69%) and lowest among Muslims (36%). Around 50% of Hindus are protected by some modern method like sterilization, pill, IUD, condom, etc. The proportion of people sterilized is twice as high for Hindus as for Muslims.

As per 2011 census, the Indian Muslim population is around 170 million which is about 13.4% of the national population and next only to Indonesia and Pakistan. Muslims in India are poorer and less educated than other religious groups. These characteristics are often associated with higher fertility rates.

Muslims are the largest minority in India
Muslims are the largest minority in India | Source

50% World Population Lives in 6 Countries

% population

# of Children per Woman

1965 - 70
1975 - 80
1985 - 90
1995 - 00
2005 - 10

Source: United Nations Population Division

Population of India

Since the most ancient time, India has witnessed arrival of people from the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the West. It was the prosperity of the region that attracted invaders and traders alike. The latest beneficiaries were the colonial British who arrived as traders in the form of East India Company and stayed as occupiers until the WW-2 weakened them and forced to depart. Indian people and culture absorbed these influences to produce a unique racial and cultural synthesis. The plunder of India for centuries, particularly during the 200 years of British occupation, deprived it of the natural development process. It is this lack of development that is basically responsible for both high population and poverty that exist today.

Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 17.3% of the world's population.

About 70% of the people live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in about 200 towns and cities.

Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age;

more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and

more than 65% hovers below the age of 35.

It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India's dependency ratio should be just over 0.4. Dependency ratio is nothing but total number of people below 15 and above 64 divided by those in the productive age group of 15 – 64.

For example, if a population of 100 consists of 12 children under 15, 18 elders above the age of 64, and rest of the 70 people in the productive age group, then the dependency ratio would be (12+18)/70 or 30/70 or 0.43.

Compare India's demographics with those of the Europe and Japan.


Aging in Europe and Japan

The Ageing of Europe, also known as the graying of Europe, is a social phenomenon in Europe characterized by a decrease infertility, a decrease in mortality rate, and a higher life expectancy in European nations. The "graying" of Europe specifically refers to the increase in the percentage of Europe's elderly population relative to its workforce.

Another related fact is that the population of Europe as a percentage of the world population is rapidly decreasing and is expected to keep declining over the next forty years.

Aging of Japan

According to Japanese Health Ministry estimates, the nation's total population will decrease by 25% from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million by 2050 and its elderly population (aged 65 or above), which comprised 20% of the nation's population in 2006, is expected to increase to 40% by 2055.

Clearly, Europeans and Japanese never imagined this scenario, say 30—40 years ago.

Conclusion: The sheer growing numbers of young population in India a few decades later combined with growing graying populations and negative population growth in the so called developed world is certainly a cause for concern, at least from the global political perspective.

After this comparison, let us see several misconceptions around population growth in India.

The Falling Population Growth Rate
The Falling Population Growth Rate | Source

Six Common Misconceptions

1. Population of India is Growing too Rapidly.

This is plain WRONG.

The population of India grew rather sharply during 1960s and 1970s. It was due to rapid progress in public health network, eradication of epidemics like small pox, control on Malaria, and various other healthy measures to reduce child mortality rate. Thereafter, emphasis on family planning measures taken up at national level slowly but steadily checked the rate of population growth and this decline is still continuing. The average number of children per family 60 years ago was about 6, but now it is less than half of that and still declining. Sheer numbers may be scary but one can clearly see that there is no increase in the population growth rate and certainly not population explosion.

Whatever population growth is there is not because people are making more babies but simply because there are too many people in the reproductive age group. A very high proportion of population is young – demographic dividend, as labeled by population experts. This is giving push to population growth, it is known as population momentum in their language.

2. Population should be small/restricted for Better Development

This is another baseless statement similar to the metaphor “small is beautiful”. USA has a big population; after China and India, and is the most populous nation on the planet. China and India are the fastest growing countries in the world!! Development depends on how well one trains and manages the productive population (in the age group 15 – 64). Of course, there are other factors such government policies, social culture, and history; but population numbers alone can not be the criteria of development.

3. How about Food-Grain shortage and Hunger-Deaths?

Contrary to popular belief, hunger has nothing to do with shortage of food in the present day world. If people die of hunger it is because they don't have access to food. The reasons lie in the politics of development and inequality - regional or global. The economic model as practiced in the world today inherently favors the rich and powerful and creates a lopsided distribution of wealth. India is no exception; there are few who are counted among the richest in the world, while a large proportion of people are poor, even poorer than people in Sub Saharan region by some estimates. Further, due to foolish governance millions of tons of food grain often rot in the government warehouses every year. Even the Supreme Court of India has directed the government to distribute vulnerable food grain stock to the poor.

Food shortage is more of a governance and distribution problem, not a population problem.


4. Urban middle class has smaller families but poor and rural people have bigger families

This might be only partly true and the reasons are rather low awareness due to lower education levels and low access to family planning tools by the rural poor. So, the reason is poverty. Yet, the fact is: the average family size has decreased in last sixty years. In the 1950s, the average number of children a woman had in her life time (called Total Fertility Rate (TFR)) was about six; now it is less than three (about 2.7). In many states it has gone below 2.

The real reason for still higher TFR in some parts of India (say, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh) is due to weak family planning program and lack of easy availability of suitable contraceptives to the rural population. In fact, about a quarter of the population growth is due to non availability of contraceptives according to population experts. However, as the development is reaching villages the situation is expected to improve.

5. Population Control is Necessary for Environment Protection

This is only superficially true. The real threat to environmental damage is the increasing demand from middle (and rich class) for more electricity, water, and fuel; in short, people are consuming natural resources at much higher rate than ever before. Poor in India don’t drive cars, and are still away from water and electricity to a large extent. It is the changed lifestyle of people with money that is a bigger threat to environment than the poor; in fact, they are too poor to destroy nature or ecology! It is the resource-guzzling lifestyle of the rich that threatens environment and nature and hence, the global well-being.

6. Introducing One- or Two-Child policy in populous states will solve the Population problem

People often site the One Child policy of China as a global success story. However, such dictatorial policies can not find acceptance in a democratic state like India. Besides infringing on human rights and forcing abortions it also distorts child sex ratio (in favor of male child). Even policies encouraging lesser numbers of children by giving incentives can lead to skewed child sex ratio as has been observed in some Indian states as well as in other countries.

Additionally, a one child policy leads to total break down of family culture, because after the first generation there are no uncles, aunts, or cousins, besides leading to the psychological single child syndrome. Sure enough, China is already seeing the side effect of having a population raised as pampered lonely children deprived of the benefits of growing in a family atmosphere. This may not sound an issue to those coming from the culture of individualism, but is clearly an issue of social importance.

You may like to read: The Dark Side of One-Child Policy of China

Global Population Growth


This article is inspired by the one day roundtable held in New Delhi (Jan, 2011) on “Population and family Planning: Contemporary Challenges & Opportunities”, organized by the National Coalition on Population Stabilization, Family Planning & Reproductive Rights.


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    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      22 months ago from Singapore

      Good article but the author has skirted the main issue that a growing population reduces the per capita income. That stalls progress and a better living standard.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks Liz, for reading and sharing.

      Yes, there are many stereotype misconceptions about high population. They are mostly propagated by laid back pseudo intellectuals who have only superficial understanding of population issues and their connections wit poverty.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Varghese 

      3 years ago

      This is a very good article, exactly reflects the way I am thinking. The usual concept about population growth puts the onus of poverty on the population 'explosion' and blames the lower classes for it. The intellectually dull upper classes don't even bother to know about the current fertility rates, particularly that among the poor. And they don't understand that even with low fertility levels, it takes some time for population to stabilise. Major aspects affecting social development and eradication of poverty like corruption and inefficiency of governance are overlooked. Someone in the comments above had commented that it takes long to travel in congested Indian cities and that it is due to population 'explosion'. This is due to the extravagance of the Indian rich who use personal cars for daily commute. In most cities in the world like London and Tokyo there is the congestion tax in prevalence to control this tendency. That is how traffic jam is controlled: make people use public transport. You can't blame everything on 'population explosion'.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks kp, for reading and commenting. Your views are interesting and reflect how typically growth oriented thinking goes!

      You say that Indian population of around 50-70 crores is good for growth. How do you intend to achieve that - put extra people in gas chambers or send them outside India into Indian ocean? How will you decide who are extra Indians?

      Please check per capita ecological foot prints of US and India. You will find that poor Indians are far too eco-friendly. In fact, the real culprit of planet's approaching resource crunch and environmental ills is exorbitantly high per capita consumption of so-called "developed" countries; not high population of global poor.

      The US like rest of the Western world is chasing the myth of eternal GDP growth - it is unsustainable - climatic and environmental troubles are already pointing to it. Mere ever increasing consumption does not make any country "developed" or "more developed". There is much more to development than obsessive consumerism for GDP growth !

      As social development is taking place India's fertility rate is falling. The rate of decline has increased in recent years. The TFR is down to around 2.3 and will reach the replacement level of 2.1 i next 4-5 years. It's population will stabilize by 2050 and then decline! This page give you more details:

      I shall be happy to know how the US is tackling issues of poverty, homelessness and racism inside its boundaries. Will it ever allocate as much funds as it has been doing for of "war on terror", for global poverty removal and global climatic mess up? What good is the GDP size or rate if it only increases wealth inequality and concentrates it in few hands and the vast masses stay largely untouched by wealth creation.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hah. USA is the 3rd large as per population is true. But with just a population of 40 crores not 130 crores. Moreover is is fourth largest country I.e almost triple in size as India. Again USA has total nominal GDP of 16.5 trillion USD against just 2 trillion of India. Overpopulation leads to disaster. More population consume more natural resources. India pays more than 130 billion USD just for oil import. Most Indians earn just around 1- 1.5 USD per day, far less than developed nation. Our national resources like coal are rapidly utilized to provide electricity to every house. Pollution is increasing. It has become difficult in major cities to travel home within few minutes. And still population is not a problem?? I think India can grow more rapidly with population around 50-70 crores, not more than that.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks Prashant, for reading carefully and sharing. I always admire thoughtful comments.

      The basic problem is with the irrational and ignorant statements using the phrase "population bomb" and "population explosion". It is a wonderful tactics of the so-called "developed" countries to blame every ill of the planet on the poor of the "third world" country - actually created by the colonial dominance for resource plunder.

      I picked up your argument from the last part of your comment, below.

      "Consider a hypothesis that availability of drinking water and distribution system being constant and fair, will there be no shortage if number of people increase?"

      - I disagree that too large population of poor people in the world (which is true) is drinking too much water that will ever be cause of drinking water shortage. It is the wasteful water use required to sustain the Rich people's lifestyle and their GDP growth related activities, that is the primary cause of not just water but all resource shortages. Imaging what will happen if their lifestyle is adopted by all Chinese and Indians and Africans; this is the real danger! I suggest you to look up per capita consumption of say an American and a Pakistani, for a clear picture.

      "It is basic maths and no brainer that at certain point the demand will outnumber supply." This typically comes from Malthus phobia of over-population of poor people. You are no exception. The planet has enough to support even twice the global population of today, if GDP development model is discarded and a sustainable development philosophy is adopted. Moreover, nature has all the checks and balances to take care of itself, despite human arrogance of omnipotence!

      When a "developed" country like Greek goes bankrupt, it's time to look for a sustainable development philosophy; rather than chasing the myth of eternal GDP growth, which is unsustainable. Politicians and economists have to now make way for this; there is enough of borrow and spend culture and gimmicks of bailout fire-fighting and austerities.

      Today 1% humanity own almost as much wealth as rest of the 99% !!! They dictate everything and practically run the world, without saying so.

      It helps to know how many of the 5 problems mentions in the page below are caused by the "population explosion" of the potential fear of it.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I think production, distribution and consumption / demand are 3 different parts of the any product be it manmade or natural resources. The article tries to show that the real problem is distribution which is only a partial truth. More consumption (due to lifestyle change as well as population growth) than production is also a major problem which can't be fixed so easily. Therefore please do not try to close eyes and pretend as if the growing population is not an issue. Consider a hypothesis that availability of drinking water and distribution system being constant and fair, will there be no shortage if number of people increase? It is basic maths and no brainer that at certain point the demand will outnumber supply...

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks narendra, for reading and commenting.

      I respect your views and disagreements. I can sense your fear of over population that comes from Malthusian logic. That's a very common thinking although there is no basis for it in a world where fertility rates are falling everywhere, except in Africa.

      The 2013 SRS data estimates India's TFR at 2.3 and predicts that by 2017 it will reach the replacement level of 2.1. It is also predicted that India's population should peak at about 1.52 bn in 2050 and start declining !

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You have highlighted a lot of good points but still I don't agree on lot of points you don't seem to agree . You don't see population of India exploding,of course its exploding 1.5 % growth per year isn't a good number we definitely need something below 0.5% , and you talked about the food thing , that people are hungry because they don't have access to food , that's funny I don't think you have done enough research on that thing,and definitely we should go with a single child policy it had nothing to do with sex ratio you can just have a talk with any of your Dr. Friend . The only thing which I agree with you is that yes we have a a large working population which if educated and trained well can do good, off course you can't give all of them jobs but yes you can make them skilled to do something of there own, like farming ,plumbing,carpentry etc. But at last I like to say the biggest problem ahead of of us is population having a large population is never beneficial may be its India china or Indonesia all of opus are facing challenges because of it ,to provide basic amenities like food and shelter is also a challenge. And please no one should say that china has a large population and they are doing good ,then again I'll say that you do your home work better.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks Saumik for sharing.

      It has to be education with women empowerment in all developing countries, not just Muslim countries. In fact, women empowerment is the best contraceptive!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Education with development is the best way to control population in Muslim countries

    • ravi1991 profile image

      Ashutosh Tiwari 

      6 years ago from Lucknow, India

      Well written and totally genuine content.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is mostly accurate, but Point 2 is wrong. The US is the ONLY first-world country in the world with high population density and high GDP per capita, and I believe that is due for a sharp correction as too much faith has been historically placed on the dollar.

      Other countries with a high growth rate (though not a high density overall) are the gulf oil countries, and a lot of that growth rate comes from immigrants. The overall trend is quite clear: to be wealthy (per capita) you need to stabilize, and even reduce your population, though as you correctly point out, that is not sufficient, and there are many poor countries with low populations.

      By the way, saying "if you need low population for prosperity, then why do Zambia and Belgium have such different GDPs?" is really silly. No one claimed that every other measure is irrelevant. This is like saying "if you need to be tall to play basketaball then why isn't Amitabh Bachhan a great basketball player?"






      United States

      United Arab Emirates


















      Korea, South

      European Union






    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      8 years ago from Pune, India

      Interesting topic, you have given many facts.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks for pointing out the positives; I very much appreciated it.

      The real issue is why it is not being done? Where are the policy initiatives that address real life problems of people, particularly the poor ones? It is perhaps end of the road for ideas borrowed from the West.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      They say we have 1.2 billion mouths to feed.. , I say, we have 2.4 billion hands to work, 1.2 billion minds to think and research. We should stop blaming population for our inability to manage the available resources.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      8 years ago from Pune( India)

      population is not a bomb, we are not able put them on job .

      We are the biggest beneficiary of demographic dividend if we plan and utilize them for our benefit.Urban literate can get benefits but rural semi literate needs some help to uplift and our socio-economic development will get the boost.

    • VENUGOPAL SIVAGNA profile image


      9 years ago from India.

      There is nothing like 'black money'... Everyone somehow manage to earn for their livelihood. Some use some principles in earning money. Others, who are not bothered about "principles" earn by hook or crook. Some use intelligence and they get unlimited income from their hard work. Their hardwork and difficulties experienced while earning money prevent them from accounting them.

      But my question is "why should anyone account for their money to anyone, including the Government?" That is their money. By getting a huge portion as "taxes", the government gives it to someone else in the name 'freebees'. It is not good. The govt. should create avenues for earning and help them with all facilities for development. It should not squeeze someone to patch someone. If taxes are lowered to a honourable low level, all income can be accounted for. Eg., if someone earns Rs.15000/-, they have to pay atleast 1000/-. If he earns in lakhs, he has to pay 30% of the income. Is it justifiable? If it is lowered to just 5%, no one will have to hide their income. So, 'black money' in India is only a farce, serving the interests of political opponents.

      The unreasonable tax levels encourage people to look in for "Trusts" and "donations" which in turn go to the same person.

    • Goodpal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Yes, illegal immigrants are reasons for many problems in India, besides increasing actual population. They are like black money that operates sneakily but never gets accounted for.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • VENUGOPAL SIVAGNA profile image


      9 years ago from India.

      A very good topic. India's population is its strength. No one need to get alarmed due to the population explosion in India. Everyone should be aware that the birthrate is not the only reason for increase of population. People from neighbouring countries pouring in through porous borders are also to be accounted for. (Eg. Bangladesh)

    • vrajavala profile image


      9 years ago from Port St. Lucie

      look, it's better not to get involved in "planned population" because that's what the Nazis did.


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