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Remember when in school, we were asked ‘what are the crucial causes for all our problems’, and we would raise our hands enthusiastically to say, ‘large population’? I clearly remember being one of the students who would always have an answer ready for a question like this, and the answer always was, ‘high population, illiteracy and poverty’. It was only after a little while, when I started questioning each mechanical response that was given for the condition of India, I realized how incredibly useful the population of India can be. I looked to the East, where countries like Japan had transcended each of their problems with the efficient use of their human resource. If a country that has the least amount of natural resources, which is periodically and frequently affected by earthquakes and other such natural disasters, if a country that needs to import almost all essential natural resources, can emerge as such a strong and vibrant economy, solely through the strength of its people, then why can’t we?
The answer to that is, we can. We have all the strength to emerge as a strong economy, and we are. The slogans of ‘India Shining’ have not appeared out of thin air. This growth in our economy, among other important reasons can also be attributed to our population, whose full potential is only now, being realized. There was a time that our population was looked at with disdain and shame. There are just too many people, and not as much of resources to sustain a population like that. But the population of a country cannot only be categorized under its numbers, what is also important to look at is its economic productivity. A younger population is more economically productive than an older one. And what is more important is a generation of workers who don’t have as many dependants (read children) to invest their earning into, and the money that is earned, enters the economic cycle of the market again.
Because of strong campaigning for smaller families and birth control (remember the ‘Hum do, Hamare do’ campaigns?), and because of a lower infant mortality rate, the fertility of women in India has gone down to 2.7 per woman. This is a much natural curve of decline than the forceful ‘family planning’ of China (The one child per family campaign). Because of the strong policy implementations and the rare advantage of not being a democracy and not having to deal with any opposition to any of their strong or harsh policies, China was able to ‘control’ their population much earlier than India. The essential importance and significance of controlling the population growth is that the present population of working class do not have as many dependents to invest their income on, and thus the productivity in the market increases along with the growth in the GDP.
Because of a slow decline in the fertility rate of women in India, after strong and incessant campaigning for smaller families, the growth of the GDP in India is steadily high, because of the inhibited productivity of these large numbers of young people in their working age, without being burdened by dependents. It has been estimated that this high GDP will continue for the next thirty years, solely run by its young and vibrant populations of people with high economic productivity. Where the average age of China is thirty-seven and the United States is forty-five and forty-eight in Japan, the average age in population in India is twenty-nine. So, while growth in the European and American countries is sluggish, (because of low economic productivity of its people and the high number of people above the age of retirement to whom the state needs to pay pension), the growth in India will remain high for a long, long time.
This is a unique time for India, where only a fool can go wrong. Each country has enjoyed the dividends of its population, and now the time comes for India. However the crucial thing is to make sure that there is a decline in the rate at which the population grows, in order to keep a check on the number of dependents each person has. Because of the high population in India, it is fast growing into a
consumer market, whose income might be low, but the sheer number of people forces the producers to be competitive and lower their prices in order to appeal to the masses.
Indians are fast replacing the others in jobs in the world market. As the working population of the other countries decreases, Indians are fast able to meet the labour deficits in the other countries. Most of the ageing countries outsource their labour requirements to India, and slowly and steadily we see how the population of India is turning into strength. This boom generation will only be able to last though, if the rate of the growth in population continues to decrease and the fertility of women remains low. This rate is different for different states. For example, the southern states were able to control their growth in population much faster that the northern states, so they are ageing faster than the northern states.
In an old and ageing world, with sluggish growth, we are the fresh faced, unusually young country that is taking the world by storm with its high GDP and growth. The world is looking east, towards the young nation that, by its sheer numbers is going through a boom generation unique to its own, that will last for the next thirty years. And because this is a more natural decline in the rate of population growth, the population is also ageing slower that China, which has almost reached an end to its boom generation and has exhausted its dividends. Moreover, because of its harsh and strong policies for one child per family the newer generation of China, which are children growing without siblings and having the full attention of their parents on them, are highly individualistic.
The time has come for India to reap the benefits of its numbers. The only possible problem with that would be if these numbers were not used properly. Human resource is the most valuable resource left in the world. Every other kind of resource threatens to perish, but because of its unique characteristic to reproduce and grow, humans are the greatest product of the world. Use them well, and every kind of natural obstacle can be surpassed and there can emerge a nation that is strong and vibrant.
Note: If interested to read more, please refer to a chapter called India, By its People in Nandan Nilekani’s Book, Imagining India, which talks of this phenomena. This article is also influenced by that.