New Delhi: India is on track to surpass China by mid-2023 as the world’s most populous nation, United Nations data said, raising questions about whether a booming, young Indian population will fuel economic growth for years to come.
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.
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’s young citizenry could drive the country’s economic growth for years to come, but it might just as easily become a problem if they aren’t adequately employed. Economists have cautioned that even as India’s economy is among the fastest-growing as its population rises, joblessness has also swelled.
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.
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.