Wednesday, October 12, 2005

India and the World-Wide Baby Bust

In The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity, the author, Phillip Longman, asserts that very little of the world population is growing. Rather, it is depopulating. The potential bad news for India is that, according to Longman, it has also started to depopulate:
India's fertility rate dropped by roughly a fifth since the first half of the 1990s. [13] Residents of the major southern provinces of Kerala and Tamil Nadu already produce too few children to replace themselves, and this will be true for Indians as a whole by the end of the next decade. [14] Meanwhile, India's sudden drop in fertility means that its population will be aging at three times the rate of the U.S. population over the next half century. By 2050, the median age in India is expected to be 37.9, making its population older than that of the United States today. [15] These projections assume, however, that India does not experience an AIDS pandemic, as now seems increasingly likely. The U.S. National Intelligence Council predicts that 25 million Indians could be infected with HIV/AIDS by 2010. [16] (Longman 11)
However, from "World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision Population Database," cited by Longman in the above passage, India's urban population is still only 29 percent of the country whereas its rural population is 71%. Since high rates of population growth are strongly correlated with an agrarian economy, the declining birth rate Longman projects is more likely tied to urbanization. Longman in his analysis doesn't distinguish between urban and rural birth rates, and the World Population Prospects database indeed predicts that by 2050, 58.6% of India's population will be urbanized.

But India's progressive urbanization along these lines is not a foregone conclusion. India is notorious for remaining "backward" in terms of bureaucracy (read corruption) and hesitancy to implement new technology. Current land laws also discourage the accumulation of large tracts of land required for industrial farming, which in turn slows urbanziation.

The irony of this is if India remains backward like this for some time to come, the projected decline in fertility could be retarded and, even more ironically, contribute positively to India's wealth relative to parts of the world that are more rapidly depopulating. This is because wealth, despite advances in technology, is still mainly tied to population growth. Another source of Indian affluence will come from the Indian diaspora, the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), whose net worth is equal to if not greater than the GNP of India. A high rate of population growth at home in India and highly successful and affluent NRI's outside of India could fuel India's rise as a world power in a most unpredictable way.

India is truly an enigma.

Works Cited

Longman, Phillip. The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity. New York: Basic Books, 2004.


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