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India’s fertility rate plunged in last 70 yrs, population to shrink further by 2050 — Lancet study


23 March, 2024 03:11 pm IST

The study predicts a divided world, with high-income nations facing ageing populations and low-income regions struggling with resource constraints amid high birth rates.

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New Delhi: India’s total fertility rate saw a significant decline from 6.18 in 1950 to 1.91 in 2021, and may further drop to 1.3 by 2050 and 1.04 by 2100, says a new study published in The Lancet. The total fertility rate (TFR) is the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime.

For a population to remain stable, a TFR of 2.1 children per woman is required, known as the replacement level. When the fertility rate falls below the replacement level, populations begin to shrink. In India, the replacement level is 2.1. 

The study, published in The Lancet journal Wednesday, reveals that India recorded more than 1.6 crore live births in 1950, which rose to 2.24 crore in 2021. However, the number of live births is expected to plummet to 1.3 crore by 2050, and further to 0.3 crore in 2100.

This is in line with the global fertility rate, which has gone down from 4.84 in 1950 to 2.23 in 2021 and will further drop to 1.59 by 2100, states the study, which was based on the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2021 — a research effort led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. 

The GBD report says that by 2050, fertility rates in three-quarters of all countries will not be high enough to support population growth.

In 2021, the GBD researchers predicted a demographically split world in the 21st century due to high birth rates in low-income countries, particularly in western and eastern sub-Saharan Africa.

The figures, the GBD researchers highlighted, pose a threat to sustainable growth as 155 of the world’s 204 countries and territories included in the research will have fertility rates below population replacement by 2050, which the researchers believe will increase to 198 countries by 2100.

Demographic divide

The fertility study further brings to light a demographic divide across the globe when it comes to live births. In 1950, one-third of the global live births occurred in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania. 

However, currently, this concentration has shifted to the sub-Saharan African region, which, after 2011, accounted for the largest share of live births — increasing from 8 percent in 1950 to nearly 30 percent by 2021. This region’s TFR declined less sharply — from 6.94 in 1950 to 4.29 in 2021 — compared to other regions.

According to the study, the proportion of live births in low-income areas worldwide would almost quadruple from 18 percent in 2021 to 35 percent in 2100. By 2100, one out of every two children born will be born in sub-Saharan Africa alone, it added.

According to the analysis presented in The Lancet, this change in the distribution of live births will result in a “demographically divided world” where high-income nations will have to deal with the effects of an ageing population and a shrinking workforce, while low-income areas will struggle with high birth rates and resource constraints.

The research further predicts that except for four regions — South Korea, Andorra, The Bahamas, and Kuwait — every country and region will see a decline in TFR between 2021 and 2100.

The two nations projected to have the lowest predicted fertility rates in 2050 are Puerto Rico (0.84) and South Korea (0.82). South Korea won’t be affected because the TFR for the country is predicted to remain unchanged from 0.82 in 2021 till 2100.  

Bhutan (0.69) and Maldives (0.77) are predicted to have the lowest TFR in 2100.

Reasons for the decline

The study attributes the fall in fertility rates to increased access to education for women and modern contraceptives, which could accelerate fertility reductions and lower birth rates, especially in high-fertility countries. 

These two reasons, the study further says, can also be an effective way to control the population in low-income countries, which are predicted to have higher TFR in the future.

While the declining fertility rates might appear as a green signal for the environment, the uneven concentration of live births can lead to tense situations across the globe, says the study.

The plummeting fertility rate in developed or high-income countries may result in an ageing population, burdening national health insurance, social security programmes, and healthcare infrastructure. They will also face labour shortages, according to the study.

On the other hand, more live births in low-income nations may jeopardise the security of food, water, and other resources — making reduction in child mortality even more challenging. The study indicates that political instability and security difficulties would occur in these sensitive areas.

(Edited by Richa Mishra)

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