India is set to become the most populous nation in the world, surpassing China by 2027 and hosting 1.64 billion people by 2050. The United Nations World Population project 2019 report has a clear message that improving the quality of life holds key to the success of nations. India’s policymakers have long maintained that the country could benefit from the demographic dividend as the vast majority of the population is below 35 years of age. The phenomenal success of the East Asian countries in the second half of the last century was largely attributed to demographic dividend. However, India may well be missing out on this opportunity. If a greater percentage of the total population is working, it gives the economy a boost in its income, savings and productivity, and brings with it other benefits. India will be able to fully exploit its demographic dividend only if the people in the working age are actually working. And, if those working have proper education and skills making them productive in the workplace. On both counts, the country has fallen short. An employment survey recently released by the government says that only half those in the working age are actually working. India is among the nine countries, along with Pakistan and Indonesia, which will see the largest increase in population between 2019 and 2050. Population growth poses a major challenge to the tasks of providing healthcare, employment and social security.
Since India is poised to become the world’s most populous country, there is an urgent need to invest more in health, education and women empowerment as they are the key contributors both to slowing down population growth and accelerating development. Investing in a skilled health workforce can draw dividend from the vast segment of youth while meeting the health needs of the growing elderly population. The major implication of the population explosion will be on the demographic dividend. As the unemployment rate is soaring, India will not be able to absorb the youth in the workforce and thereby cannot reap the benefits of demographic dividend. A high population with shrinking job opportunities may become a threat to the economy and accentuate the challenges further. For curbing population growth, the Union Health Ministry in 2017 launched mission ‘Parivar Vikas’ to increase access to contraceptives and family planning services in 146 high fertility districts. There is a need for more support from the private sector whose corporate social responsibility investments must focus on the area of reproductive health and family planning. Rapid population growth has adversely affected health services and infrastructure. If the population growth had been slower, it would have been easier to raise the per capita expenditure and improve the quality of services.