Editorial 1: Demographic transition and change in women’s lives


  • The passage of World Population Day (July 11) is also a time to look at how India’s demographic journey has changed the lives of its citizens, particularly its women.

The Statistics

  • India’s population grew from about 340 million at Independence to 1.4 billion.
  • In 1941, male life expectancy was about 56 years; only 50% of boys survived to age 28.
  • Today, life expectancy for men is 69 years, and nearly 50% live to see the ripe old age of 75.
  • This rapid decline in mortality took parents by surprise, who no longer needed to have four children to ensure that at least two would survive, causing population growth until fertility decline caught up with the mortality decline, and the Total Fertility Rate fell from 5.7 in 1950 to 2.1 in 2019.
  • Women’s childhood, adulthood, and old age have been transformed over the course of demographic transition, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.

Change for Indian women

  • As families began having fewer children, ensuring at least one son became more difficult.
  • With four children, the chance of not having a son was barely 6%, but with two children, it grew to 25%.
  • Social norms and patrilocal kinship patterns combined with lack of financial security reinforce a preference for sons.
  • The India Human Development Survey (IHDS) found that 85% of women respondents expected to rely on their sons for old age support, while only 11% expected support from their daughters.
  • Hence, parents who want to ensure that they have at least one son among their one or two child family, resorted to sex-selective abortion, and, in some cases, the neglect of sick daughters.
  •  Consequently, the number of girls per 100 boys, ages under five dropped from 96 to 91 between 1950 and 2019.
  • With a fertility decline, active mothering occupies a smaller proportion of women’s lives, creating space for education and employment.
  • While women’s educational attainment increased, with over 70% of girls enrolling in secondary education, early marriage and childbearing remain the predominant forces defining women’s lives.
  • Early motherhood, perhaps, explains why lower fertility does not translate into higher labour force participation for women.
  • Women need to establish secure connections to the labour market and gain work experience if they are to get skilled jobs.
  • By the time peak childcare demands end, they have missed the window for occupations that require specific skills; only unskilled work is open to them.

Affect women older ages

  • Demographic shifts also affect women’s lives at older ages.
  • With rising life expectancy, the proportion of the female population aged 65 and above increased from 5% to 11% between 1950 and 2022, and is projected to reach 21% by 2050.
  • While the proportion of older men will also increase, aging for women has unique implications.
  • Women generally marry men who are older and are more likely to outlive their husbands. The 2011 Census shows that while only 18% of men above age 65 are widowed, about 55% of the women are widowed.
  • For widowed women, the lack of access to savings and property results in dependence on children, mainly sons, bringing the vicious cycle of son preference to full circle.

Harnessing gender dividend

  • Changing patriarchal norms may take a long time. Meanwhile, enhancing women’s access to employment and assets will reduce their reliance on sons and could break the vicious cycle of gendered disadvantage, stretching from childhood to old age.
  • However, early marriage and childbearing remain central to Indian women’s lives. Hence, any efforts at improving women’s labour force participation must be accompanied by access to safe and affordable childcare.
  • A World Bank evaluation based on a randomised controlled trial in Madhya Pradesh found that the expansion of Anganwadis to include a crèche led to an increase in the work participation of mothers.

Way forward

  • The best solution would be to make staffing crèche an acceptable form of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
  • The burgeoning self-help group movement can be harnessed to set up neighbourhood child-care centres in urban and rural areas.
  • Obtaining the much hoped for demographic dividend cannot be done without fully harnessing the gender dividend.
  • Improving access to childcare is an important component of achieving this.

Editorial 2: North India’s monsoon mayhem


  • Every year, the entire country awaits the onset and evolution of monsoon with baited breath. Each year tends to be different, and this year has managed to produce a rather unique onset and evolution thus far. The onset this season was delayed by unforeseen interactions between typhoons and cyclones. Cyclone Biparjoy was born after the onset and lingered for longer than normal to delay the arrival of monsoon over Mumbai by nearly two weeks. For the first time in over half a century, the city saw monsoon arrive together with Delhi. The monsoon trough thus ended up with an exaggerated curvature over northwest India.

Monsoon Distribution

  • The deficit due to the delayed onset has been all but wiped out but the distribution of rainfall remains as patchy as ever, with excess rainfall over the northern Western Ghats into northwest India and deficits extending in a horseshoe pattern from Uttar Pradesh into Odisha and back to the east into Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Extreme heat has also been reported in parts of Himachal Pradesh, even as some areas of the State received heavy rainfall.

Climate change and Monsoon

  • The impact of climate change has always been of great interest, but it is worth remembering that everything today happens in a warmer world that is also more humid.
  • With global warming, a warm and humid atmosphere acts like a steroid for the weather. Every weather event now has some contribution from global warming.
  • At the same time, one must also pay close attention to weather patterns that emerge due to other factors.
  • While the El Niño has been grabbing many headlines this year, it is not yet clear how much the current monsoon mayhem has had to do with the El Niño.
  • Additionally, wildfires thus far this year have burned over three-times the normal area and have also emitted about three times as much carbon dioxide. This has also had a contribution to the warming.

Other Factors

  • The Indian subcontinent is like a popcorn kettle that gets heated up as the Sun crosses over into the northern hemisphere in March.
  • Rainfall is like the kernels of corn popping randomly around the kettle. That is, monsoon rainfall distribution always tends to be patchy.
  • Excess rainfall over northwest India is consistent with the Arabian Sea having warmed by about 1.5 degrees Celsius since January.
  • The instabilities in the atmosphere that drive convection are not strong enough to drive large-scale rainfall during the pre-monsoon season.
  • Rainfall this pre-monsoon was above normal due to a combination of the warm Arabian Sea and an unusually high number of western disturbances.
  • As a result, soils were left moister than normal, which in turn affected the evolution of the monsoon.
  • However, the mystery is that, despite averaging rainfall over a month, a season or even multiple seasons, rainfall distribution remains uneven.
  • Disuniform terrain and heterogeneous land-use patterns are the likely culprits.
  • The Atlantic Ocean and the upper atmospheric circulation also tinker with the monsoon.
  • The entire Atlantic Ocean has been warmer than normal since March. While the so-called Atlantic Niño, with a warm tropical Atlantic, generally tends to suppress monsoon rainfall, it is not clear what the impacts are when the entire Atlantic is as warm as it has been this year.
  • The strongest winds that occur in the upper atmosphere can spontaneously break into clockwise and anticlockwise patterns, especially when they run into mountainous terrain, such as the Himalaya.
  • Strong clockwise winds, with air flowing out from the centre, in the upper atmosphere demand an anticlockwise circulation near the surface, in order to feed the upper-level outflow. Such a convergence near the surface can drive excess rainfall.
  • Finally, the warming over the Himalaya has not been uniform either. Some parts of the mountain chain are amplifying global warming, leading to rapid local warming.
  • Irregular weather patterns during the monsoon superpose on these local features as a result of the winds expanding or compressing as they race up and down the narrow valleys.
  • The results can be cloudbursts, heavy rains or even heatwaves — depending on the local flow patterns.


  • The conclusion is that the Indian subcontinent is a veritable popcorn kettle that can throw up many surprises.
  •  Everything is not directly attributable to global warming — even as every little weather event is happening in a warmer and wetter world.
  • Only improved forecasts with sufficient granularity in space and time can reduce the element of surprise resulting from these weather monsters.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *