The idea that India is not one country but two (or more?) is, of course, not a new one, but it does seem to me to be a thesis which is worth revisiting, in particular in the light of India’s current demographic realities. Chris Wilson in a paper (pdf) entitled “Implications of global demographic convergence for fertility theory” suggests that in order to understand anything which is worth understanding about India some type of regional dis-aggretation is vital since there is so much variance between states. In arguing this he makes the following seemingly valid point that:
“if the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh were an independent nation, it would today be the fourth most populous on Earth (assuming China and India are disaggregated), with more inhabitants than Pakistan or Russia”
And of course fertility and child mortality in Uttar Pradesh has nothing whatever to do with fertility and child mortality in, say, Kerala.
Now P.N. Mari Bhat, of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi explored this idea a little further in a recent paper (pdf) entitled Demographic scenario, 2025.
In the introduction to his paper Bhat makes the methodological point that:
It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the population prospectus on a state-by-state basis. But because they make telling contrasts, two broad regions- north and south – will be considered for detailed treatment. The ‘north’ in our discussions comprises of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and newly formed states of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh. The ‘south’ comprises of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. During 1991-2001, the average population growth rate was 2.22 percent per annum in the north while it was only 1.24 percent in the south.
He then goes on to suggest one possible scenario for Indian population development up to 2025:
The provisional results of the 2001 Census suggest that in the year 2000 the northern and southern regions had a population of 450 and 220 million, respectively ……. In the case of south India, TFR has been assumed to fall progressively from 2.3 in 2000 to 1.9 in 2010 and then to remain constant at 1.8 until 2025. In north India, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been assumed to decline from 4.4 in 2000 to 3.6 in 2010 and further to 2.7 by 2025. Between 2000 and 2025, the expectation of life at birth in south India has been assumed to rise from 64 to 70 for males and from 67 to 74 for females. During the same period in north India, the expectation of life at birth has been assumed to rise from 59 to 66 for males and 58 to 67 for females. As south India appears to be hit more by the AIDS epidemic, a slower rate of increase in life expectancy has been assumed there.
Now all of this is very provisional, since population projections are notoriously unreliable, but three things to seem to stand out:
i) The fertility differential between north and south. If anything I would say that assuming a stabilisation of TFRs at around 1.8 for south India to 2025 is pretty questionable, since it doesn’t seem to take account of the possible impact of birth postponement (which as we can see in Southern Europe, Japan, and the Asian Tigers, can lead to lowest-low fertility in the 1.2-1.3 TFR region). If economic growth continues to take-off in the south and you get a more educationally qualified, and a more gender-equal evolution, associated with rapid economic growth in the region, then this ‘modern’ low fertility profile is likely to appear as a consequence (this does seem to be the global experience). In which case India is likely to become even more ‘divided’, with low fertility, ageing population issue in the south, and a pre-modern fertility and excessive child mortality pattern still clinging on to some extent in the north.
ii) The life expectancy dimension. As can be seen there is an important differential in this regard between north and south, with the lower life expectancy in the north being associated with the relatively higher infant and child mortality.
iii) The AIDS wild card. No one really knows what will be the impact of this on both life expectancy and future fertility.
Another point Bhat refers to is the changing age structure of the Indian population:
We can be more certain of the changes in the age structure of the population. Under the realistic scenario, between 2000 and 2025, the percentage of population under 15 years of age is expected to fall from 36 to 27 percent. Actually, the population under 15 years is expected to increase only marginally from 360 to 371 million in 25 years. On the other hand, the adult population in the age group 15-64 is expected rise from 604 million in 2000 to 942 million in 2025. i.e., from 60 percent to 67 percent of the total population. The elderly population is also expected to rise sharply from 45 to 89 million, and their share in the total population would rise from 4.5 to 6.4 percent. As a consequence of these age structural changes, the age-dependency ratio (ratio of non-working age population to working age population) is expected to fall from 67 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2025.
So in age structure terms the situation is rather favourable from India’s point of view as the proportion of people in the working ages is going to rise and rise. This is really the heart of India’s demographic dividend process, although, of course, there is nothing inevitable about this dividend and things will very much depend on having adequate policies to meet the challenges, and in particular policies which address the need to equilibrate the imbalances between north and south. One possibility which would help this equilibration process would be to facilitate migration from north to south, but from where I am sitting it is hard to say how viable or realistic this is.
In general it is possible to say that for India population ageing will not be a huge problem in the short term, but that it will be much more of a problem in the south (which is why again immigration would be interesting, although obviously there are important cultural issues to think about here, I have no idea, for example, just how feasible the displacement of female care workers from the north to tend for elderly people in the south ever could be, all I can say is that is what is happening here in Spain, from where I am writing this, with young women arriving in large numbers from Bolivia and Ecuador, and what works in Spain might work in India) . What can be said, however, is that in population terms India will now start to have the wind blowing behind her, which should be much more favourable than having it blowing straight into her face as it has been up to now.