Demography and Destiny
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The world’s largest democracy, India, is now the world’s most populous country. The distinction is important because it represents a shift in the world order that has developed in recent decades as China, which has had the largest population, has grown more powerful.
According to the United Nations, India as of April has more than 1.4 billion people. China had around that number of citizens last year but its population has dropped since then. Furthermore, while China’s population is expected to dip below one billion before the end of the century, India’s is expected to continue to rise. India, for example, will likely have almost 3 million more people than China by mid-2023.
“That squarely positions it as an alternative to China: Both as a manufacturer and, perhaps someday, as the world’s largest market,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “The onus is now on the South Asian giant to fulfill that promise or bear the consequences.”
Chinese state-owned media panned the UN’s report, saying Western pundits were using the findings to suggest that China’s power was waning along with its declining population, Reuters reported.
But such demographic shifts might signal a change in China’s fortunes. As the Guardian explained, China introduced its notorious one-child policy in the 1980s – imposing fines on families with too many kids as well as forcing women to undergo abortions and sterilizations – when fears of overpopulation gripped leaders in Beijing.
Now, however, as the country has experienced a remarkable economic transformation, its aging and declining population is stirring fears that China will suffer as a smaller cadre of working adults pays for elderly care and other public services.
India’s population, meanwhile, has quadrupled since independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. A variety of factors have fueled the growth. Indian culture incentivizes large families, noted Ernest ‘Doc’ Werlin, a columnist for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Birth control is lacking in some regions. Public health care has improved in recent years, too, reducing infant mortality rates.
But India is also relatively poor. The effects of climate change, economic inequality, and conflicts between different religious and ethnic communities in the country, meanwhile, are major problems for Indian leaders in New Delhi.
Still, the low cost of labor could help India in the same way it helped China, reported the Associated Press. American tech giant Apple, for example, is expanding in India and hopes the country will become a manufacturing hub – the same role that China has played in the global economy in recent years.
Some analysts believe that with India’s baby boom, the end of an era in global trade and international relations is upon us.