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- India is about to overtake China as the most populous nation in the world, according to the United Nations
- China and India’s combined population make up more than a third of the world’s 8 billion people
- Companies, including tech giant Apple, may leave China for India as Beijing’s working age population shrinks
India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation as its young population soars, and will surpass China by mid-2023, according to data released Wednesday by the United Nations.
While there are hopes that India’s young citizenry could drive the country’s economic growth for years to come, it also might just as easily become a demographic liability if they are not adequately employed. Economists have cautioned that even as India’s economy is among the fastest-growing as its population rises, joblessness has also swelled.
While India’s 254 million people between ages 15 and 24 is the largest number in the world, China is struggling with an aging population and stagnant population growth. That has sparked expectations that the demographic changes could pave the way for India to become an economic and global heavyweight.
INDIA GRAPPLES WITH SHRINKING FEMALE WORKFORCE AS POPULATION SOARS
Tech giant Apple, among other companies, hopes to turn India into a potential manufacturing hub as it moves some production out of China, where wages are rising as the working age population shrinks.
The U.N. report said India will have about 2.9 million people more than China sometime in the middle of this year. India will have an estimated 1.4286 billion people versus mainland China’s 1.4257 billion at that time, according to U.N. projections. Demographers say the limits of population data make it impossible to calculate an exact date; India has not done a census since 2011.
Hindu devotees gather at the annual traditional fair of Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India, on Jan. 31, 2023. India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation by midyear. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh, File)
China has had the world’s largest population since at least 1950, the year the U.N. began issuing population data. Both China and India have more than 1.4 billion people, and combined they make up more than a third of the world’s 8 billion people.
Not long ago, India wasn’t expected to become the most populous until later this decade. But the timing has been sped up by a drop in China’s fertility rate, with families having fewer children.
India, by contrast, has a much younger population, a higher fertility rate, and has seen a decrease in infant mortality over the last three decades. Still, the country’s fertility rate has been steadily falling, from over five births per woman in 1960 to just over two in 2020, according to World Bank data.
INDIA SET TO OVERTAKE CHINA AS WORLD’S MOST POPULOUS COUNTRY IN NEXT 3 MONTHS: UN REPORT
The country’s population has more than quadrupled since its independence from colonial rule 76 years ago. As India looks set to become the world’s largest country, it is grappling with the growing threat of climate change, deep inequalities between its urban and rural populations, economic disparities between its men and women, and a widening religious divide.
The report surveyed 1,007 Indians, 63% of whom said economic issues were their top concern when thinking about population change, followed by worries about the environment, health and human rights.
“The Indian survey findings suggest that population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public. Yet, population numbers should not trigger anxiety or create alarm,” Andrea Wojnar, the United Nations Population Fund’s representative for India, said in a statement. She added that they should be seen as a symbol of progress and development “if individual rights and choices are being upheld.”
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Many are banking on India’s rising number of working age people to give it a “demographic dividend,” or the potential for economic growth when a country’s young population is eclipses its share of older people who are beyond their working years. It’s what helped China cement its place as a global power.
On Wednesday, China responded to news of the U.N. report with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin saying “a country’s demographic dividend depends not only on quantity but also on quality.”
“The population is important, so is talent… China’s demographic dividend has not disappeared, the talent dividend is taking place and development momentum remains strong,” Wang said at a briefing.