The consequences of declining fertility are many


  • Though the global population, in terms of numbers, has been steadily increasing — some reports suggest that it could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030 — there is an interesting aspect to this: average global fertility has been consistently declining over the past 70 years.
  • The average number of children per woman in the reproductive age group has declined by 50%, from an average of five children per woman in 1951 to 2.4 children in 2020, according to the World Population Prospects (WPP) 2022 by the United Nations population estimates and projections, and prepared by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (UN-DESA).

WPP 2022 Findings Related to India :

  1. India’s growth rate stood at 2.3 % in 1972, which has dropped down to less than 1% now.
  2. In this period, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) or the number of children each Indian woman of reproductive age has during her lifetime has come down from about 5.4 to less than 2.1 now. This means that Indian has attained the Replacement Level Fertility (RLF) Rate, at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next.
  3. Fertility rates have been declining, so have mortality rates with increased access to healthcare and advances in medicine.
  4. Population of 0-14 years and 15-24 years will continue to decline while those of 25-64 and 65+ will continue to rise for the coming decades.
  5. This reduction of premature mortality for successive generations, reflected in increased levels of life expectancy at birth, has been a driver of population growth in India.
Comparing India and China:As per WPP, 2022 , India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023.In 2022, China remains the most populous country in the world with 1.42 billion, but India has caught up with a marginally less population of 1.41 billion.

Reasons for changing trend of population:

  • This is the result of speeding up the social phenomenon of demographic transition.
  • Demographic transition is a phenomenon and theory which refers to the historical shift from high birth rates and high death rates in societies with minimal technology, education (especially of women) and economic development, to low birth rates and low death rates in societies with advanced technology, education and economic development, as well as the stages between these two scenarios.
  • Poorer countries seem to be speeding up the transition ladder a lot faster than the richer ones.
  • The newly released World Population Prospectus also notes that the global fertility rate fell from three in 1990 to 2.3 in 2021. Sub-Saharan African countries are expected to contribute more than half the population growth after 2050 and grow through 2100. Most advanced economies have their fertility rate below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Indian scenario:

  • The Indian setting is no different, with its fertility rate falling below the replacement level for the first time to 2.0 in 2021, according to the latest National Family Health Survey 2021 (NFHS- 5). The rate has dipped 10% in just five years.
  • At the time of Independence, India’s fertility rate (TFR) was 6 per woman, and it had taken 25 years to reach 5, with the government launching the first ever family planning programme in the world in 1952.
  • India’s fertility further declined to 4 in the 1990s when Kerala became the first State in India to have a fertility rate below replacement level; slowly, other States followed suit.
  • As reported by the NFHS 2021, only five States have a fertility rate above the replacement rate: Bihar, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Manipur.
  • The steady dip in fertility rates has been explained as an effect of increased use of contraception, more years of average schooling, better health care, and an increase in the mean marriage age of women.

Many economic implications:

Countries in the earlier stages of demographic transition find positive effects of lower fertility on income as a major portion of the workforce moves to modern sectors of the economy with fertility dipping. Lower fertility rates can be viewed as both a cause and consequence of economic development.


  1. Lower fertility impacts women’s education positively, which in turn lowers the fertility of the next generations. With better infrastructure development, better health care, and education, fertility drops and income rises.
  2. Demographic Dividend- The spiral of lower fertility leads to a window of time when the ratio of the working-age population is higher than that of the dependent age groups. This high proportion of people in the workforce boosts income and investment, given the higher level of saving due to lower dependence.
  3. The falling fertility rate will also lead to lower pressure on land, water and other resources and would also contribute to achieving environmental goals.


However, A fall in fertility rate beyond replacement level  would have a negative effect on the proportion of the working population:

  1. TFR < RLF will negatively affect output in an economy.
  2. A rise in education and independence among women would enhance their labour participation, which could arrest the fall in labour participation up to a limit.
  3. An influx of immigrants from countries with higher population growth could also play a positive part but this would change local demography, leading to political unrest.
  4. A paper, “The End of Economic Growth? Unintended Consequences of a Declining Population”, by Stanford economist Charles Jones argues that falling fertility could diminish the creative capacity of humankind. He points to the need for ideas in technological advancement and productivity boost, which even artificial intelligence is still not capable of.
  5. An ageing population will also affect global interest rates negatively as the share of people over 50 years will form almost 40% of the population by 2100. In their book The Great Demographic Reversal, economists Goodhart and Pradhan explain how falling fertility will have a positive effect on inflation through higher wages due to lower labour supply and a change in the nature of unemployment inflation trade-off, as now low inflation can be maintained even with low unemployment.

Way forward: Dealing with fertility decline

The fall in fertility around the globe has been a result of decades of demographic process, and hence needs scientific and sustainable policies for mitigation.

  1. The advancement in health care and better nutrition around the world have increased the life expectancy and productivity of older citizens.
  2. Reforms in the labour market to induce more flexibility in the labour market would encourage working women to have more children and non-working mothers to enter the labour market.
  3. Countries across the globe are experimenting with policies to boost fertility. Germany found success in boosting births through liberal labour laws, allowing more parental leave and benefits.
  4. Denmark offers state-funded IVF for women below 40 years, and Hungary recently nationalised IVF clinics.
  5. Poland gives out monthly cash payments to parents having more than two children, whereas Russia makes a one-time payment to parents when their second child is born.
  6. Liberal labour reforms, encouraging higher female labour force participation rate, and a higher focus on nutrition and health would ensure sustained labour supply and output despite lower fertility.


Though the benefits of demographic dividend are being reaped, the below replacement level fertility rate would mean a smaller dividend window than expected. Although India’s working-age population will continue to grow for many more decades, it would need to keep an eye on fertility dips.

Remember Periyar with a pledge to embrace dissent


We celebrate Periyar E.V. Ramasamy’s birth anniversary (September 17) as Social Justice Day.

World Day of Social Justice (or Social Justice Equality Day) is an international day recognizing the need to promote social justice, which includes efforts to tackle issues such as poverty, exclusion, gender inequality, unemployment, human rights, and social protections. It is celebrated on 20th February every year, different from India’s case.

About Periyar:

  • Born E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in 1879 in Erode district of Tamil Nadu (TN) , Periyar started his political career as a Congress worker. He quarrelled with Gandhi over the question of separate dining for Brahmin and non-Brahmin students.
  • He resigned from the party in 1925, and associated himself with the Justice Party and the Self Respect Movement, which opposed the dominance of Brahmins in social life, especially the bureaucracy.
Justice Party, officially the South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), was a political party in the Madras Presidency of British India. It was established in 1916 in Madras by Natesa Mudaliar and co-founded by T. M. Nair, P. Theagaraya Chetty and  M Thayarammal.SILF was born as a result of a series of non-Brahmin conferences and meetings in the presidency. Communal division between Brahmins and non-Brahmins began in the presidency during the late-19th and early-20th century, mainly due to caste prejudices and disproportionate Brahminical representation in government jobs.Dravidar Kazhagam is a social movement by Periyar whose original goals were to eradicate the ills of the existing caste system including untouchability and on a grander scale to obtain a “Dravida Nadu” (Dravidian nation) from the Madras Presidency.Dravidar Kazhagam would in turn give birth to many other political parties including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and later the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Theses 2 political parties have since then alternatively ruled TN.
  • Periyar’s fame spread beyond the Tamil region during the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924, a mass movement to demand that lower caste persons be given the right to use a public path in front of the famous Vaikom temple. He would later be referred to as Vaikom Veerar (Hero of Vaikom).
  • In the 1940s, Periyar launched a political party, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), which espoused an independent Dravida Nadu comprising Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada speakers.
  • As a social reformer, he focused on social, cultural and gender inequalities, and his reform agenda questioned matters of faith, gender and tradition.
  • Periyar died in 1973 at the age of 94. Over the years, Periyar is revered as Thanthai Periyar, the father figure of modern Tamil Nadu.

About Self Respect Movement :

  • Self-Respect Movement was a dynamic social movement aimed at destroying the contemporary Hindu social order in its totality and creating a new, rational society without caste, religion and god.
  • The movement was started by in Tamil Nadu in 1925. It was an egalitarian movement that propagated the ideologies of breaking down of the Brahminical hegemony, equal rights for the backward classes and women in the society and revitalization of the Dravidian languages like Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.

Social justice and Periyar:

  • Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.
  • Social justice and rationality define “the best possible version of truth” for a large majority of people. (the quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic.)
  • Even Periyar would have wanted us to question every concept and framework in the world, and not accept anything, because someone told us so. He converted interested crowds into keen listeners, listeners into avid thinkers, and thinkers into principled politicians and die-hard activists.

Vision for the future :

  • When he presented his thoughts, there was nuance, honesty, and an explicitness, which prompted even people practising different faiths to discuss and debate his ideas on rationality and religion. Periyar himself said, “Everyone has the right to refute any opinion. But no one has the right to prevent its expression.”
  • Periyar is often referred to as an iconoclast, a person who attacks or criticizes cherished beliefs or institutions.
  • He was so called for the rebellious nature of his ideas and the vigour with which he acted. His vision for the future was a part of all his actions. He did not merely aim at the eradication of social evils; he also wanted to put an end to activities that do not collectively raise standards of society. The radical nature of his ideas drew constant opposition.

Foundation of rationalism :

  • Periyar’s vision was about inclusive growth and freedom of individuals. He presented rationalism as a solid foundation for thinking along these lines. He said, “Wisdom lies in thinking. The spearhead of thinking is rationalism.”
  • Periyar said, “Any opposition not based on rationalism or science or experience, will one day or other, reveal the fraud, selfishness, lies, and conspiracies.” We can posit this with regard to the extreme-right activities we see happening across the country and sometimes abroad too.
  • Periyar was way ahead of his time. All the reforms he shared with people could not be implemented at the time because of the searing discussions they led to.  One such reform measure he felt was needed to change the caste dynamic in society was ‘Priesthood for all castes’.

Relevance of Periyar in current times:

  • On one level, a few people are benefiting greatly from the rampant rise of acts of violence against minorities. These people have such an external defence mechanism that it becomes easy for them to use incendiary rhetoric and get away with it.
  • The discussion that Periyar initiated continues to-date, and is the antithesis to this manner of societal regression. Periyar proclaimed that he would always stand with the oppressed in the fight against oppressors and that his enemy was oppression.
  • Spaces for debate are shrinking all over the world. Majoritarianism and populism are not enabling sensible conversations in any public sphere. At such a time, Periyar stands as a stellar precedent, reminding us of a time when people with opposing ideas were invited to the stage for a debate.


As a part of creating a society with social justice at its core, let us pledge to create open spaces for discussions in our communities. If need be, let us spearhead such activities on whatever scale. Only these spaces have the potential of creating a positive change at an ideological level.


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