Population of India will overtake that of China by mid-2023, confirms UN

India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world by mid-2023, as per a United Nations report released today. The UN data said that India’s population would surpass that of China’s population by 2.9 million.

The Indian population has inched ahead, as the Chinese fertility rate dropped because of the one-child policy. Photo courtesy: Canva

The news agency Associated Press reported: “[India] will have an estimated 1.4286 billion people against China’s 1.4257 billion by the middle of the year, according to UN projections. Demographers say the limits of population data make it impossible to calculate an exact date.”

While the world population officially crossed 8 billion on November 15, 2022, it was reported in January 2023 that India had already surpassed China as the most populous nation. To make that claim, some news outlets cited figures from the World Population Review (WPR), an independent organisation focused on census and demographics. However, the figure of Indian population estimated by WPR was 1.417 billion as of end of 2022, while the UN report gives a higher estimated figure.

The UN population data estimates began in 1950, and since then, China has never been overtaken until now, though its one-child policy, implemented in 1980, has considerably slowed down the population growth rate. By 2015, the one-child policy was scrapped, because it was believed that the birth rate drop was hurting the Chinese economy.

The sheer size of China’s 1950 baseline population has kept it at the first position until now, even as India has been inching closer. Taken together, the two Asian nations have 35 per cent — or more than one-third — of the world population. It is not that India’s fertility rate increased; it is just that China’s fertility rate decreased.

The State of World Population report, released today, by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), is titled ‘8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: the case for rights and choices’. It calls for “a radical rethink of how population numbers are framed”. In a press release about its report, UNFPA said that the report was “urging politicians and media to abandon overblown narratives about population booms and busts”.

The UNFPA report focused on empowerment of women, enabling them to make their own reproductive choices, rather than on the size of the population alone.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said in the press release, “Women’s bodies should not be held captive to population targets. To build thriving and inclusive societies, regardless of population size, we must radically rethink how we talk about and plan for population change.”

Pointing the extent of the problem of lack of choice for women, the UNFPA said: “A staggering 44 per cent of partnered women and girls in 68 reporting countries do not have the right to make informed decisions about their bodies when it comes to having sex, using contraception and seeking health care; and an estimated 257 million women worldwide have an unmet need for safe, reliable contraception.”

The UNFPA said that its report “strongly recommends” the government policies be centred around gender equality and gender rights.

These rights include parental leave, child tax credits, promotion of gender equality in the workplace, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. “These offer a proven formula that will reap economic dividends and lead to resilient societies able to thrive, no matter how populations change,” it said.