Demographic divide between north and south set to widen: official projections – Livemint

Fifteen years from now, there will be something of a generational divide between Indias north and south, new official population estimates show. As the developed southern states age rapidly, the average Tamil man will be over 12 years older than the average Bihari man. Meanwhile, as fertility falls slowly in the north, the average Bihari woman will have more children than women from Kerala did 40 years earlier.

India is growing slower than before, and women are having fewer children, but there are still very much two speeds at which these processes are going on. Over one-third of the total increase in Indias population between 2011 and 2036 will come from two states alone - Uttar Pradesh and Bihar - new census population projections show, while all of the southern Indian states will see their share in the population declining.

Bihar will surpass Maharashtra to become Indias second most populous state after Uttar Pradesh within the next four years, and Rajasthan will grow bigger than Tamil Nadu. People from the four most populous southern Indian states will account for fewer people than from Uttar Pradesh alone.

At the same time, India will move from being a very young country, to increasingly resembling something closer to a middle-aged country.

But here again, there will be two speeds. By 2036, Tamil Nadu will be Indias oldest state, with a median age of over 40, older still than Kerala, which, with a median age of 31.9 years, was the oldest Indian state in 2011. Bihar was and will remain Indias youngest state, the only state where the median individual will be under 30 even in 2036, the projections show. The median Indian will be 34.7 years of age in 2036.

By 2036, Bihar will be the only state that has not achieved replacement fertility, the projections say. In demographic terms, a group is said to have achieved replacement fertility when the average woman will have no more than 2.1 children in her lifetime, enough only to replace that group, and marks the beginning of the end of population growth. Over four decades separate Indias most developed states from its least developed states in terms of this fertility transition. Kerala achieved replacement fertility in 1998, while Bihar will get there only in 2039.

The new numbers come from a Technical Group on Population Projections that was set up in the office of the Registrar General of India to provide the country with population estimates for the period of 2011-2035. The projections are made using data on fertility, mortality, migration and urbanisation. However, the estimates assume that current demographic trends will hold, an assumption that has been challenged of late.

These changes could come even quicker than has been estimated, experts say. Most high fertility groups - poorer women, women in poorer states, Muslim women - have consistently exceeded expectations by lowering their fertility faster than demographers predicted. By the 2011 census, Muslim fertility had slowed faster than Hindu fertility and faster than anticipated, for instance.

I expect all of these changes to take place even faster than has been anticipated," P Arokiasamy, Head of the Department of Development Studies at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, said. There is a strong diffusion effect; once changes are established in some demographic groups and states and the advantages of lowered fertility like better incomes and health outcomes are visible, there is an aspiration in other groups too to reduce their family sizes. It will happen in states like Bihar that are lagging behind right now," he said.

The aspiration to give their children a better future could be driving a big part of this change, research by Alaka Basu, professor of development sociology at Cornell University, and Sonalde Desai, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, has shown. Using data from the 2004-05 India Human Development Survey, they found that smaller families were able to invest significantly more in childrens education. Expenditure on childrens education was 40% higher in one-child families than in families with three or more children. Only children were over one-and-a-half times as likely to be in a private school as children from families with over 3 children, and children from two-child families were 1.4 times as likely to, their research showed.

The change (in population growth) is happening on its own," Arokiasamy said. What needs attention now is ageing."

Rukmini S. is a Chennai-based journalist.

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