NEW DELHI (AP) — India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation, surpassing China by 2.9 million people by mid-2023, according to data released Wednesday by the United Nations.
The South Asian country will have an estimated 1.4286 million people compared to China’s 1.4257 million by mid-year, according to UN projections. Demographers say that population data boundaries make it impossible to calculate an exact date.
China has had the world’s largest population since at least 1950, the year the United Nations population data began. Both China and India have more than 1.4 billion people and together account for more than a third of the world’s 8 billion people.
Not long ago, India was not expected to become the most populous until the end of this decade. But the timing has been hastened by a drop in China’s fertility rate, with families having fewer children.
Today, China has an aging population with stagnant growth despite the government’s withdrawal from its one-child policy seven years ago.
By contrast, India has a much younger population, a higher fertility rate, and has seen a decline in infant mortality over the past three decades. Still, the country’s fertility rate has been falling steadily, from more than five births per woman in 1960 to just over two in 2020, according to World Bank data.
India’s continued growth it is likely to have social and economic consequences. It has the largest number of young people with 254 million between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the UN.
Experts say this could mean an expanding labor force that can help fuel growth in the country for decades to come. But they warn that it could quickly become a demographic liability if the growing number of young people in India is is not properly used.
The report surveyed 1,007 Indians, 63% of whom said economic issues were their top concern when thinking about demographic change, followed by environmental, health and human rights concerns.
“The Indian survey results suggest that population anxiety has trickled down to a large part of the general public. However, the population figures should not cause anxiety or create alarm,” Andrea Wojnar, representative of the United Nations Population Fund 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 respected.”
The hope is that India’s growing number of working-age people will provide a “demographic dividend” or the potential for economic growth when a country’s young working-age population outstrips the proportion of older people already They are not of working age. That’s what helped China become an economic and global heavyweight, even as its number of working-age adults is now dwindling.
On Wednesday, China responded to news of the UN report, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying that “a country’s demographic dividend depends not only on quantity but also on quality.”
“Population is important, so is talent… China’s demographic dividend has not disappeared, the talent dividend is taking place, and the development momentum remains strong,” Wang told a briefing.