Monday, 25 July 2011

Implications of findings of the Census of India 2011

In the next few blogs, I would be discussing major findings of Census of India 2011 with special reference to the implications for India's social-economic development1. This blog concentrates on major findings.

An Overview:
The provisional results of the Census of India 2011 are of interest to anyone interested in India’s development, as well as concerned with the global demographic situation. The reason, of course, is the massive size of the country's population. The Indian population as at 00.00 hours of March 1, 2011 was 1,210,193,422, of which 623,724,248 are males and 586,469,174 are females. This number is higher than had been generally anticipated in India. With more than 1.2 billion people, India now contains about 17.5 per cent (i.e., every sixth person in the world is an Indian) of humanity. China is the only country with a larger population in the order of 144 million more. The United Nations (2010) has estimated that the Indian population grew at an annual rate of 1.43 percent during 2005-10. China registered a much lower annual growth rate of population (0.7 percent) during the corresponding period. In fact, the growth rate of China is now very much comparable to that of the developed countries. Demographers expect India's population to surpass the population of China, currently the most populous country in the world, by 2030. At that time, India is expected to have a population of more than 1.48 billion while China's population is forecast to be at its peak of 1.46 billion and will begin to drop in subsequent years. Based on analysis of recent data, I came to the conclusion that India will take over China in the next 13 years, that is by 2023.

India has been in the middle of the demographic transition over the past several decades where the death rate has fallen sharply because of preventable causes like improved public health as well as sanitation; but the birth rate has remained high due to slow progress towards social-economic development as well as limited access to quality reproductive health and contraceptive services, especially in the Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. That is a major cause of a spurt in population as well as the stalled demographic transition. However, the results of the last two censuses, especially the findings of the 2011 census clearly indicate that the country has entered the last phase of demographic transition, usually characterized by rapidly declining fertility. The crucial question is - how long will this phase extend and when will India achieve a stable population? The National Population Policy 2000 states that “the long-term objective is to achieve a stable population by 2045, at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environment protection” (GoI 2000:2). To initiate the process of population stabilization, replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman would be achieved by 2010. However, the Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections reveals that India will not achieve the replacement level fertility before 2021 (RGI 2006: 6). No doubt, it will require a “herculean effort” on the part of the government and the people to achieve the much-cherished goal of a stable population.

Intercensal Population Growth:
The percentage decadal growth during 2001-2011 has registered the sharpest decline since independence. It has declined from 21.54 percent for 1991-2001 to 17.64 percent for the period 2001-2011, a decrease of 3.90 percentage points. Though the decadal growth rate has declined significantly during the decade, in absolute terms the population of India has increased by a whopping 181.5 million during the period. The absolute addition to the population during the decade is slightly less than the estimated population of Pakistan (185 million in 2010), the sixth most populous country in the world.

The population of an area grows or decreases as a result of both natural increase (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migration minus out-migration). During the decade 2001-11, India’s population increased by more than 181 million. During the corresponding period, however, natural increase of population was 178 million, as derived from the SRS natural increase growth rate. An analysis of these data reveals that India as a whole tends to be a net importer of people from overseas, and this probably explains in part why India's intercensal annual growth rate is slightly higher than its rate of natural increase 1.62 per cent versus 1.60. It appears that during the decade, net in-migration (in migration minus out migration) to India was of more than 3.5 million people.

The State level data shed light on India's changing demographic situation. It can be seen that Uttar Pradesh is by far the most populous State in the country with about 200 million people living here, which is more than the population of Brazil (195 million in 2010), the fifth most populous country of the world. Seventeen States, designated as ‘Major States,’ now have a population of over 25 million. On the other extreme, there are eight States and Union Territories in the country that are yet to reach the one million mark.

The rate of population growth has declined in all the Major States except Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, and this is a good sign. However, the Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh have experienced relatively high rates of population growth during 2001-11 as compared to Four South Indian (FSI) States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and in particular Kerala. And this emerging demographic divide may pose problems for socio-economic development as well as unity of the country.

The provisional data indicate that slightly more than one third of India’s population in 2011 was enumerated in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar alone. Next seven States namely West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Karnataka and Gujarat accounted for more than 43 percent of the total population. In other words, more than three fourths of the country’s population was enumerated in just 10 States and the remaining 25 States and Union Territories recorded less than one fourth of the population of the country. This sort of a skewed population distribution suggests that an overwhelming proportion of population is located in only a few States of India. This is a valid reason to argue in favor of a second States Reorganization Commission.

Overall Sex Ratio:
Sex Ratio is a sensitive indicator that displays the status of women. It is mainly the outcome of the interplay of sex differentials in mortality, sex selective migration, sex ratio at birth and at times the sex differential in population enumeration. The sex ratio in the country had always remained unfavorable to females. Moreover, barring some hiccups, it has shown a long term declining trend to reach 927 females per 1000 males in 1991 from 972 in 1901. According to the provisional figures, the sex ratio stands at 940 for the country as a whole. Though marginal, this is a welcome improvement over the 2001 census. Further, it is for the first time that two consecutive censuses have shown an increase in general sex ratio.

The sex ratio among the Major States ranged from 877 in Haryana to 1084 in Kerala in 2011. It appears that the population sex ratios have become less masculine in most States during the last two censuses. This probably reflects an improvement in the relative census coverage of the female population as well as some genuine changes in the position of females, as reveled by the declining maternal mortality ratios and increasing expectation of life at birth. The drastic improvement in overall sex ratio in coming years largely depends on efforts to be made in the FLNI States due to their share in the total population of the country

Child Sex Ratio:
Before the provisional census results were declared on March 31, 2011, it was widely assumed that the child sex ratio (CSR) that is the number of girls per thousand boys in the 0-6 age group would register some improvement over 2001 findings. However, the results reported a steep fall in child sex ratio again, and this is most depressing finding of the census 2011.

At the national level CSR declined from 927 to 914 between the last two censuses. The decline of 13 points between 2001 and 2011 as compared to 18 points between 1991 and 2001 may offer some consolation to all those concerned with the issue. But the fact remains that gender discrimination is continuing to be rampant. According to the provisional results, except for Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and some other small states that have recoded an increasing trend in CSR, all other States including Kerala and Union territories (27 out of 35), the child sex ratio shows a decline over 2001 census . This shows that the phenomena of discrimination is no longer limited to a few states but is almost assuming epidemic proportion. This poses new set of challenges to the programme managers and civil society organizations. Further, the findings of census 2011 clearly indicate that discrimination against girl child was wide spread both in poor and progress areas. For example, the State of Maharashtra recorded a fall of 30 points from 913 to 883 between 2001 and 2011 in CSR, whereas CSR declined from 909 in 2001 to 883 in 2011, a decline of 26 points in Rajasthan in the last decade alone.

No doubt, the sex-selective abortion has been affecting the sex compositions of Indian households. However, the desire for a small family is also contributing to this emerging situation. The available data indicates that in the changed situation most of the Indians, whether they are rich and poor, do not want large family. The data shows that the overall percentage of children in the 0-6 age group has reduced by 2.8 per cent. They constituted 15.9 per cent of the population in 2001 as compared to 13.1 percent in 2011. This indicates lowering fertility rates - a negative growth rate in this segment of the population. However, it is important to note that if we look at the growth rate among boys and girls which is -2.42 and -3.80, it is clear that girls are not really having a fair chance of survival due to discrimination at birth and during childhood. They constituted 14.2 per cent of the population in 2001 as compared to 11.1 percent in 2011.This indicates lowering fertility rates - a negative growth rate in this segment of the population.

This indicates that the son preference is common in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children. As a result, once couples get son(s), a sizable number of them are not going for another child. Recently, the Forum for Population Action, Jaipur, a national NGO working in the area of population and development initiatives since 2000, conducted a rapid survey in a mixed community of Jawahar Nagar, Jaipur where both middle class and slum people reside. The main objective of the survey was to understand the fertility preference. Around 200 couples were selected randomly with the help of telephone directory who married between 1990 and 1995. Though the sample size is small, it clearly shows the preference for the small family. Table 1, based on the survey results, clearly indicates that once couples have son(s) they do not go for another child irrespective their socio-economic class. And that may be an important factor contributed in lowering the CSR in India.

Table 1. Jawahar Nagar, Jaipur: Distribution of couples who married between 1990 and 1995 by number of children born, 2010
Couples with:
Number of couples
Per cent
No children
One son
Two sons
One daughter
Two daughters
One son and one daughter
More than two children
Did not answer
Source: Devendra Kothari, Fertility preferences in Rajasthan: An analysis of survey data, Jaipur: Forum for Population Action, 2010.

It appears that in the future the child sex ratio will improve in favor of girls, once situation settled down. The experience of China, Korea, and Taiwan as well as in some parts of India suggests that India is passing through a transitional phase. However, concerted efforts are still needed to create equal regard and affection for the girl child. Otherwise the population will become skewed leading to a host of societal problems like increased crime against women. The greater efforts have to be made to improve the dignity of girl child by improving educational facilities as well as paid employment opportunities.

State of literacy:
Literacy and education are reasonably good indicators of socio-economic development in a society. The ability to read and write with understanding is not ordinarily achieved until one had some schooling or at least some time to develop these skills. It was, therefore, decided at the 1991 census that all children in the age group 0-6, will be treated as illiterate by definition and the population aged seven years and above only is to be classified as literate or illiterate. The same criterion has been retained at the Census of India, 2011 also. It is not mandatory that to be treated as literate, a person should have received any formal education or acquired any minimum educational standard. Literacy status can be acquired through adult literacy classes or by attending any non-formal educational system. Persons who are unfortunately blind and read in Braille are also treated as literates.
More than a decline in population growth rate, it is in the spurt in literacy rates that make the Census of India 2011 stand out from others in post-independence India. More than four-fifth of the male population and two-third of the female population are now literate, compared to less than one-fifth of Indians who still do not possess even the basic proficiency in literacy. The increase in literacy rates in males and females are in the order of 7 and 11 percentage points respectively as compared to 2001. It is important to note that literacy improved fastest in the poorest States during the last decade, as shown by the provisional data. This improvement in literacy rate augurs well for the country and needs not only to be sustained but requires a fillip, particularly in the case of the fairer sex.

In spite of a significant jump in female literacy, its impact has not been seen in the meaningful improvement in woman’s autonomy measured in terms of decision-making roles within the family and community. Woman’s autonomy can have a significant impact on the health seeking behaviour of women by altering their relative control over fertility and contraceptive use, and by influencing their attitudes and abilities. To measure woman’s autonomy and empowerment more directly, the National Family Health Survey-3 (IIPS 2007), asked about women’s participation in household decision-making, their freedom of movement, and access to money that they could spend as they wished. Married women were asked who makes decisions on their own health care, making large household purchases, making household purchases for daily household needs, and visiting their own family or relatives. Only 37 percent of currently married women participate in making all four of these decisions. Further, only one-third of women are allowed to go by themselves to the market, to a health facility, and to places outside their own community. Further, a comparison with other States of India indicates that FLNI States have a consistently poor record on all the indicators of decision-making, as noted in NFHS-3 (IIPS 2007). In this connection, one should note that these states recorded the highest unwanted fertility in the country. It is observed that high level of unwanted pregnancy leads to powerlessness and this, in turn, engenders lack of empowerment and autonomy (Kothari 2010).

The next week, I will discuss the resultant demographic scenario and its implications

Selected References:

GoI. 2000. National Population Policy 2000. New Delhi: Department of Family Welfare, Government of India.
IIPS. 2007. India: National Family Health Survey, 2005-06. Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences.

Kothari, Devendra. 2010. “Empowering Women in India through better Reproductive Healthcare”, FPA Working Paper No 5, Jaipur: Forum for Population Action.

Kothari, Devendra and Sudha Tewari. 2009. Slowing Population Growth in India: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward. MIPD Policy Brief No. 2, Management Institute of Population and Development, (Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi).

RGI. 2006. Population Projections for India and States, 2001-2026, Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections Constituted by the National Commission on Population. New Delhi: Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India.
RGI. 2011. Provisional Population Totals, Paper – 1 of 2011, Census of India 2011. New Delhi: Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India.

1The earlier version of this paper was presented at the discussion on the “Implications of emerging demographic scenario based on the provisional results of Census of India 2011”, organized by the Management Institute of Population and Development (MIPD) – a unit of Parivar Seva Sanstha and Population Foundation of India at the Scope Conventional Centre, New Delhi on April 5, 2011. The copy of the printed paper entitled “Implications of Emerging Demographic Scenario” ) could be obtained by writing to Ms. Sudha Tewari, President, Parivar Seva Sanstha at or . 

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