By Dr. Gyan Pathak
As India becomes the largest populated country in the world with 142.86 crore population as per the State of the world population (SOWP) 2023 report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public. High rate of population growth, that stands at 1.56 per cent in a year for India, has become chief cause of concern, both for the people and policy makers.
India’s total fertility rate is estimated at 2 births per woman in the reproductive age, a decline that may be considered good, since a fertility rated at or below 2.1 per cent per woman is widely considered the “replacement fertility rate, also called “zero-growth fertility” rate. It means India’s population growth stems largely from the inbuilt momentum of current numbers of people and improvements in life expectancy, not fertility rate.
The report titled “8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: the case for Rights and Choices” showed China only a little behind with a population of 142.57 crore. India’s population as per SOWP 2022 was 140.66 crore.
In the very first chapter of the report Under the title “Our Human Family, 8 Billion Strong” it does try to instil greater hope among the people by saying “our human family now has 8 billion members, a milestone to celebrate, but it also mentions a public survey report commissioned by UNFPA and conducted by YouGov that indicated the prevailing anxieties among the people and the policymakers.
The survey was conducted across eight countries including India for their views on population issues. It’s finding suggest that population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public in every country surveyed. The most common view among respondents was that the global population was too large. It says that in six countries excepting Japan and India, the most common view was that the global fertility rate was too high. The other six countries included – Brazil, Egypt, France, Hungary, Nigeria, and the United States.
Another notable finding was that exposure to messages and rhetoric about world’s population – whether via media, general conversation or other modes of communication – appeared to be linked to greater concern about population size, fertility rate and immigration. In all countries, those who reported being exposed to media or conversations about the world’s population in the past 12 months were substantially more likely to view the global population as being too high.
In every country, those who had not seen media coverage or messaging about the population were more likely to report “don’t know” when asked if the population was too big, too small or just right. Similarly, those exposed to rhetoric or media messages about global or domestic population size were more likely to say the global fertility rate was too high.
Although it’s not possible to ascertain a causal relationship (rhetoric may contribute to population anxiety, for example, but people with population anxiety may also better recall or more actively consume information about population), what is clear is the value of ensuring that rights and choices remain central in dialogue and messaging around population issues.
One particularly crucial finding arose when respondents were asked to identify what issues were of greatest importance to them when thinking about population change within their own countries. In all countries, except Japan, issues related to policies on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as other human rights, were a significant concern for many.
The centrality of rights rarely finds its way into discourse about “over-” and “under-” population as expressed by politicians and the media, but it appears that rights and policies are present in the public’s mind, as are concerns about the economic and environmental impacts of population change, the report said.
As per the secondary analysis of the data submitted by governments to the United Nations survey of government policies, the Inquiry Among Governments on Population and Development, which has been routinely conducted since 1963 while the present analysis focused on responses from 2015, 2019, and 2021, there seems to have risen anxiety among governments when it comes to their population and fertility trends.
The report says that people cannot have too many or too few children under any definition but their own. What can be extraordinarily good or disastrously bad, however, are the ways we respond to population numbers and trends. Extraordinarily good outcomes can happen when policies are evidence-based and human rights are affirmed, and disastrously bad outcomes happen when we react to the real challenges of population change by prescribing fertility solutions that undercut human rights – or by ignoring population change altogether.
In many ways, population anxiety may be an understandable reaction to the world’s many uncertainties. But despair only diverts attention away from the problems that need addressing and saps motivation to manage challenges associated with demographic change – and these challenges can, indeed, be managed.
However, the report explores the mix of fears and anxieties arising from the population that are simply too many leading to climate change and environmental destruction.
The other concerns are relating to high incidence of poverty. There are about 5 billion people who make less than $10 a day, and India is the home to largest number of poor in the world. About 68 per cent of India’s population are between 15-64 years of age. This is working age population who would need jobs. Additionally, the population is increasingly ageing who would require greater care and financial security. Women’s empowerment and protecting the children’s rights would remain burning issues.
In the end, the report emphasizes that population anxiety is an easy way to avoid the complexities of the challenges we face. Progress requires us to imagine the world not as it is but as it could be, one in which every individual can realize their full potential. That world is a future within our reach; the path there is ours to make. (IPA Service)