Can India turn population into dividend?

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/3 18:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Not long ago, the UN's World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision report said that India's population would reach 1.438 billion by 2024 and China's population would grow to 1.436 billion at that time. As a result, India is bound to surpass China as the world's largest populous country.

Because of a lower level of social development, India's overall literacy rate is currently 74 percent and its female literacy rate is only 65.5 percent. Both men and women have weak awareness and ability to reduce and control fertility.

What's worse, it is difficult for the government to reduce fertility. In the 1970s, the Indira Gandhi government briefly introduced compulsory birth control, but faced a revolt, leading to the government's loss in subsequent elections.

In recent decades, India has been in a rapid growth stage, with a high birth rate and low death rate. If there is no human intervention, India's population will continue to maintain a high growth rate over the next few decades.

China adopted a strict "one child" policy to control its population growth. What's more, with China's social and economic development, especially the significant improvement of female education, Chinese people desired fewer children and the birth rate has dropped. Without effective intervention, China's population growth will remain low or even negative for a very long time.

When it comes to a country's population and population growth, the core issue is whether a large population is favorable to the country's development. A populous country obviously has its favorable side. Before industrialization, a large population means a large market. Only a populous country can become a world power. The international community generally believes that India is a major power, or will become a major power. A large population is an important reason that India can strive for the status of a great power and play a key role in the world.

After industrialization, population and the size of a country are no longer the decisive factors in the power of a country, but mastering and applying science and technology is the source of national wealth and strength. A large population doesn't necessarily equate with wealth. India's GDP can't catch up with Japan and Germany, whose population is far less than that of India. At present, one-third of the world's poor live in India.

Currently, half of India's population is under 26.9 years old, which means India has a sufficient young labor force. This is a great advantage, especially for attracting international industrial transfers and developing labor-intensive industries. Due to a "demographic dividend," international investment evaluation institutions and many experts and scholars are optimistic about India's future economic growth.

India's demographic structure has existed for the past few decades, but has only been transformed into an economic growth advantage in the last decade. India's agricultural sector does not have excess labor because of its backward agricultural science and technology. India's backward manufacturing sector has led to insufficient employment opportunities in cities for young people. This shows that the population size and structure are only two factors of economic development, and a correct national development strategy is also needed.

Moreover, the proportion of educated and technical workers in the young workforce is relatively low, which cannot meet the demand for talent in the modern manufacturing industry. India must further improve its infrastructure, vigorously promote investment and strengthen vocational and technical training. This would allow its "demographic dividend" to start paying off.

It must be pointed out that the "demographic dividend" is an advantage that comes in stages. If ample opportunity cannot be made now for many young people to create and accumulate wealth, India will have the economic burden of supporting them when they enter old age.

Indian-Americans' success is another reason for the international community's confidence in India's future. Historically, Indians have made a significant contribution to the development of human science and technology, and no one can deny the success built by Indians.

But the success of the ancient Indians and Indian-Americans can't guarantee success for the Indians of today. On the contrary, the success of Indian-Americans demonstrates that success needs the right conditions. India still lacks the conditions to make many Indians successful.

The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.


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