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India’s Looming Demographic Divide

As it prepares to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, India is struggling to harness the economic benefits of its declining mortality and fertility rates. Uneven population growth, with some Indian states experiencing baby booms while others close schools, could turn the demographic divide into a disaster.

NEW DELHI – India looks set to end a tumultuous year on a celebratory note, marking both 75 years of independence and the start of its G20 presidency. But another milestone is looming. United Nations experts estimate that on April 14, 2023, India will officially overtake China and become the world’s most populous country.

That is not necessarily cause for celebration. China occupies approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3.7 million square miles), compared to India’s 3.3 million square kilometers, which makes India’s population density nearly three times higher than China’s. Yet, unlike China, India struggles to feed, educate, and care for its 1.4 billion people, despite its impressive growth rate over the last three decades.

Population growth poses both opportunities and challenges. India’s population is expected to grow over the next four decades to approximately 1.7 billion, before plunging to 1.1 billion by 2100. Owing to the declines in its mortality and fertility rates, India has a narrow window of opportunity to harness the growth of its productive labor force to boost economic development.