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Mixed signals on population growth

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

Mixed signals on population growth

At the wholesale market on Avenue Road in Bengaluru on July 11.

At the wholesale market on Avenue Road in Bengaluru on July 11. | Photo Credit: SHAILENDRA BHOJAK/PTI

Findings of the World Population Prospects Report 2022, which looks at population trends in 237 countries, indicate that populations were shrinking and not exploding as previously thought.

According to the the latest World Population Prospects Report 2022, which was released on July 11, the World Population Day, global life expectancy at birth fell to 71 years in 2021 due to COVID-19. The report looks at population trends in 237 countries. Its findings show that even though world population was growing, the rate of growth had slowed down in many countries; that fertility levels across the board had declined; that working age populations had increased; and life expectancy had improved, though it still lagged behind in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). According to the report, the cumulative effect of lower fertility, if allowed to continue over several decades, could result in a more substantial reduction of global population growth in the second half of the century.

India to be most populous country in 2023

In some countries, successive waves of the pandemic may have led to short-term reductions in the number of pregnancies, while in some other countries, there was little or no impact on fertility levels. The global population is expected to reach 8 billion on November 15, 2022, with India expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023. As per the report, the rate of growth of the global population was on the wane since 1950. A marked decline in fertility levels in recent decades in many countries was noted. Similar trends were noticed in India as well. Fertility levels for all groups had seen a marked decline. According to the Fifth National Family Health Survey, India’s Total Fertility Rate (the maximum number of children a woman was likely to have in her lifetime) had dropped to 2.0 from 2.2 since the last survey.

The global report says that two-thirds of the global population lived in areas where the life-time fertility rate was below 2.1 births per woman, the level required for zero growth in the long run for a population with low mortality.

Apart from low fertility, emigration has also been identified as the other major reason for the sharp decline in populations. The populations of 61 countries are expected to decrease due to low fertility and emigration.

Projected increase in a few countries

The report estimates that more than half of the projected increase would occur in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines. and the United Republic of Tanzania. Sub-Saharan Africa was expected to contribute more than half of the increase by 2050.

The synopsis of the report draws a connection between high population growth and sustainable development without quite critiquing the skewed consumption of resources by the developed countries, the inequities between nations and within nations, and the different stages of development in the world.

It is worth recalling here the historic International Conference on Population and Development at Cairo (ICPD 1994), where it was agreed that reproductive rights and health of women would take centre stage. As many as179 governments were signatories to the Cairo programme of action which rejected coercive policies in favour of a rights-based approach to reproductive rights and health. The link between development and population was made effectively. Development was the best contraceptive, the ICPD had declared. That truism still holds good, though judgments like overturning Roe vs Wade have reversed all the hard won reproductive rights for women and individual choices.

Life expectancy lags in LDCs

On the whole, populations were shrinking and not exploding as previously thought. As per the latest report, even in those countries which were comparatively heavily populated, the working age population between 24-64 was on the rise due to reduced fertility rates. Yet, at the same time, an aging world population was a matter of concern as well. The share of persons over 65 was expected to rise from 10 per cent in 2022 to 16 per cent in 2050. Life expectancy rates had reached 72.9 years in 2019, and expected to reach 77.2 years in 2050, which was a positive development. Yet in the Least Developed Countries, life expectancy was seven years behind the global average, which, in all likelihood, was a reflection of global inequities.