Bharat’s Demographic Transition- Issues and Challenges

In 1947, Bharat’s population was 33.6 crores. Life expectancy in Bharat in 1947 was around 32 years. Number of births and Deaths were 27.5 and 19.7 per 1000 respectively in the decade 1941-50, according to 1951 census.

Currently Bharat’s population is 138 crores. The current life expectancy is around 70 years and the current birth rate and death rate are 18.2 and 7.3 per 1000 respectively. The average age of women at marriage has risen from about 15 years in 1951 to over 20 years for women marrying today—a trend that has led to the fall in fertility at young ages (i.e. 15-19).

According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the average age at which women are married in rural Bharat is 21 while in urban Bharat it is 23.

Bharat is witnessing a demographic transition from a state in which both the death rate and the birth rate were high, highly variable and roughly equal in 1950s towards another state (still several decades away) in which both the death rate and the birth rate are low, fairly stable, and roughly equal.

Year Total population ( in millions) Absolute increase in decade ( in millions) Annual growth rate (%)
1951   361.0   42.43 1.25
1961   439.2   78.15 1.96
1971   548.2 108.92 2.20
1981   683.3 135.17 2.22
1991   846.4 163.09 2.14
2001 1028.7 182.32 1.93

(Source- NCERT)

Bharat’s rate of population growth was around 2 percent per year during 1951-2001 as can be seen from the above chart. Consequently, the population almost tripled in size during 1951-2001. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have been, and remain, nearly two decades ahead in their experience of the demographic transition as compared to the major populous northern states in particular, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (UP).

During 1996-2001, life expectancy in these five southern states averaged about 66.3 years, compared to 59.6 in the four northern states (Sample Registration System). Similarly, during the same period, total fertility in these southern states averaged about 2.2 births per woman, compared to an average of 4.3 births for Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and UP combined.


Urbanization has also contributed to reduction in the mortality and fertility rates. Between 1871 and 1941, census data show a very slow rise in the level of urbanization—from 8.7 to 13.9 percent.

During 1951 and 2001 Bharat’s urban population grew from 62 to 285 million i.e. at an average of 44.6 million people during each decade. And the 2001 census indicates the level of urbanization at 27.8 percent, which increased to 31.16% in 2011 and further expected to increase to 38.6% in 2036.

Out of the total population increase of 30.7 crores estimated during 2011-2036 in the country, the share of increase in urban population is expected to be 22.4 crores (72.96%).

Classification of urban towns in census is done into (i) statutory towns and (ii) census towns. Statutory towns are notified under law by the states/ UTs whereas census towns are identified based on the census data.

Therefore, the notifications by the governments and increase in population have led to many semi-urban and rural places getting shifted into urban towns over a period of time resulting in a gradual increase in the overall urban population in the country. Also, migration of people from rural areas to urban places has added further momentum to this trend.

Future demographic trends and implications

The population of Bharat is expected to increase from 121.1 crores to 151.8 crores during the period 2011-2036 – an increase of 25 percent in twenty- five years at the rate of 1.0 percent annually. The crude birth rate will decline from 19.6 during 2011-15 to 13.0 during 2031-35 due to the falling level of total fertility.

In contrast, the crude death rate is expected to increase marginally due to changing age structure of the population with the rising median age as a result of continuing decline in fertility and increase in the expectation of life at birth. The crude death rate will increase from 6.9 during 2011-15 to 7.3 during 2031-35.

The infant mortality rate of the country, which is reported to be 46 in 2010 is expected to go down to 30 by the end of the period 2031-35. With the declining fertility, along-with the increases in life expectancy, the number of older persons in the population is expected to increase by more than double from 10 crores in 2011 to 23 crores in 2036 with an increase in their share to the total population from 8.4 to 15.0 percent.

The proportion of population in the working age-group 15-59 years is expected to rise from 60.7 percent in 2011 to 65.1 percent in 2036.

Another important consequence of the declining fertility will be that, at the national level, the population in the school-going age of 5-14 years is expected to decline from 25.4 crores in 2011 to 20.7 crores in 2036. The share of the population aged 5-14 years to total population of all ages is expected to decrease from 20.9 percent in 2011 to 13.6 percent in 2036.

The youth population in the age- group 15-24 years is expected to increase from 23.3 crores in 2011 to 25.2 crores in 2021 and then continue to decrease to 22.7 crores in 2036. Its proportion to total population is expected to fall from 19.3 percent in 2011 to 14.9 percent in 2036.

Out of the total population increase of 30.7 crores between 2011 and 2036, the share of the workers in the age-group 15-59 years in this total increase is 82.5 percent. This has implication in the availability of labour in future. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is expected to decline from 2.34 during 2011-2015 to 1.72 during 2031- 35.

Future Challenges

Demographic projection implies that Bharat’s population will increase by about 400 million between 2001 and 2026. The total population in 2026 will be about 142 crores which is expected to increase further to 151.8 crores in 2036. It is also expected that all demographic growth in the period to 2026 will occur at ages above 15 years. There will be little change in the number of children aged less than 15 in 2026, and possibly a marginal decline.

By mid-century, the country’s population will have surpassed that of China and it may well be nearing 160 crores. More than half of the demographic growth during 2001-26 will occur in the main northern states i.e. Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and UP. The populations of these four states will increase by around 45-55 percent over this period, but those of most of the other states will grow by only about 20-30 percent.

The poor states are mostly growing slowly economically and fast demographically; and, conversely, the country’s better-off states are mostly growing fast economically and slowly demographically (Tim Dyson, British demographer, London School of Economics).

The population will become increasingly old as a result of fertility decline and it will become increasingly urban. These trends will have major practical implications in the areas of health, education, employment, food production, public administration, and the environment.

Bharat needs at least 11 million additional jobs per year to sustain the current level of workers to population ratio of 46.80 % (2018 data) which will be a major challenge in the days to come considering the fact that the GDP growth rate has been declining over the past few years

Post Covid, the GDP in Q1 in FY 2020-21 has drastically declined to 23.9%, which is the worst incident of the negative economy in the last four decades and also the first GDP decline since Bharat began publishing growth data on a quarterly basis in 1996.

Suggested strategies

The author suggests the following strategies to address the above mentioned challenges.

  • Promoting agro based industries and allied activities in agriculture in order to increase the job opportunities in rural areas and enhance the farmers’ incomes. To start the designated food parks in 253 locations as notified by the Ministry of food Processing and Industries in a time bound manner. This would also arrest the trend of migration of people from villages to urban areas.
  • Special focus on micro and small enterprises in order to create more self-employment opportunities to the youth population and encourage entrepreneurship.
  • Bridging the gap between the academia and industry in order to create more employable youth rather than merely manufacturing graduates from the colleges and universities.
  • Expanding the reach of Ayushman Bharat to fully cover the targeted 10 crore poor and vulnerable families with approximately 50 crore beneficiaries under the National Health Protection Scheme with special emphasis on covering senior citizens who are financially vulnerable.
  • Implement the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission to declare the right to health as a fundamental right under the constitution.
  • Effective implementation of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund scheme that is envisaged with an estimate of Rs. 1 lakh crore in order to strengthen the rural urban linkages, eliminate the middlemen and provide direct market access to the farmers to ensure remunerative farm incomes. This will significantly help in reducing the poverty and income inequality in rural Bharat.

Let us hope the governments will focus on the above mentioned suggestions to convert the demographic transition into an advantage to develop the economy failing which this demographic transition will only become a burden leading to several economic, social and environmental issues in the years to come.



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About the Author

Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 14 years of teaching, research and consulting. 100 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 20 short stories and 27 articles published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]