The world’s population numbers are becoming less and less reliable, as seen by the UN’s hasty proclamation that India had overtaken China as the most populated nation. It will stop being a reliable source of information on the global economy if its predictions for other nations are also questioned.
WISCONSIN’S MADISON – According to United Nations estimates, India surpassed China as the world’s most populous nation in April. Even while the news generated a lot of media coverage, India’s census in 2024 will probably show that the UN’s estimates were greatly exaggerated. India’s population increased from 1.03 billion in 2001 to 1.21 billion in 2011, according to the results of the most recent census. However, these numbers were given by the UN’s 2022 World Population Prospects (WPP) report as 1.08 billion and 1.26 billion, respectively. In addition, compared to the WPP’s estimate of 2.16, the National Family Health Survey of India reported a fertility rate of 1.99 for the years 2017–19.
The famous quote “Development is the best contraceptive” was spoken by Karan Singh, India’s then-Minister for Health and Family Planning, during the 1974 UN population conference in Bucharest. Contrary to popular belief, which holds that wealth per capita and fertility are strongly associated, dropping fertility rates are mostly the result of advancements in health, education, and access to contraception. In India, where the infant mortality rate has decreased, education levels have increased, and the fertility rate has decreased, this pattern is clearly seen.
When comparing several Indian states, the following trends also appear: Since the country’s last census, India’s development indices have significantly improved. The nation’s infant mortality rate decreased from 44 per 1,000 live births in 2011 to 27 in 2021. The mean number of years spent in school among persons aged 20 and older went from 5.8 to 7.2 years, while the gross enrolment rate in secondary education climbed from 66% to 78%. The prevalence of contraception increased significantly from 54% in 2013–15 to 67% in 2017–19. India’s fertility rate might be as low as 1.6-1.7 in 2024, resulting in a population between 1.37 and 1.39 billion, down from the 1.44 billion the UN predicted.
India’s fertility rate is predicted by the WPP to increase to 1.78 in 2050 before falling to 1.69 by 2100. However, in places like Singapore and Malaysia, Indian people have marginally higher fertility rates than Chinese ones. For instance, the average fertility rate for Chinese and Indians in Singapore was 1.19 and 1.09, respectively, between 2000 and 2022. Similar to this, the average fertility rate in Malaysia between 2016 and 2021 was 1.23 for Indians and 1.1 for Chinese. However, instead of the 1.7 billion people predicted by the WPP, India’s population is more likely to peak below 1.5 billion by 2050 if there is no socioeconomic paradigm change. The statistics present an even grimmer picture towards the beginning of the twenty-second century. India’s population may dip below a billion people, despite the UN report’s prediction that it would reach 1.5 billion people by 2100.
Even more inflated are the WPP’s predictions of Chinese population changes. For instance, according to the 1992 WPP, China’s population would increase to 1.54 billion people by 2025. The real number will probably be closer to 1.27 billion even if the 2022 study lowered it down to 1.42 billion. Similar to how the 1996 study predicted that by 2050, there will be 1.52 billion people in China, the 2008 report amended this prediction to 1.42 billion, and the 2022 edition further decreased it to 1.31 billion. The 2022 report revised the 2019 WPP’s projection of 2100’s population from 1.06 billion to 767 million.
The reliability of UN demographic statistics as a source for information on Chinese socioeconomic trends has been compromised by these ongoing changes. However, as former National Population and Family Planning Commission chief Zhang Weiqing acknowledged in 2006, UN forecasts had a significant impact on China’s official demographic data. Furthermore, You Yunzhong has been in charge of China’s censuses since 1982. He was once the UN’s deputy director for demographic and social statistics.
The veracity of the report’s forecasts for yet more nations would be put into doubt if India’s 2024 census results show that its population is much lower than the WPP’s estimates, further undermining the survey’s standing as a reliable resource for researching the global economy.
The UN has not only exaggerated China and India’s numbers, but has also contributed financially to both nations’ population-control initiatives. With $40 million from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and many extreme policies to control the population increase of the nation, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi compelled the sterilization of almost eight million Indians in 1974. Fortunately, voters ousted Gandhi from office in 1977, which resulted in the repeal of these regulations.
After India, UNFPA turned its focus to China, giving $50 million that year. This was a sizable donation considering that China’s foreign currency reserves at the time only amounted to $167 million. The money went toward carrying out China’s one-child policy. Sterilizations rose from 2.2 million in 1981 to 20.7 million in 1983 under the strict control of Health Minister Qian Zhongxin, while abortions rose from 8.7 million to 14.4 million. Gandhi and Qian received the inaugural UN Population Award in 1983 from a UN committee made up of 10 member nations (with the UN secretary-general and the executive director of UNFPA serving as ex-officio members).
The United States has regularly cut off funding to UNFPA despite the organization’s defense of its work in China due to allegations that it supports coerced abortion and sterilization. The UN’s exaggerated population estimates and China’s strict decision-making led to the one-child policy’s tardy repeal, which occurred only in 2016. China’s population is still declining, but the nation has not yet done away with its population-control policies.
An aging dilemma that might endanger both China and the West’s stability exists now. Although UNFPA’s support for population control contributed to some of this crises, the organization’s propensity to exacerbate issues rather than address them may be a sign of deeper organizational flaws. The UN has to make big changes to its pricey, ineffective, and sometimes incorrect demographic committees in order to deal with the problems presented by aging populations and avoid a devastating economic downturn.
May 27, 2023, 12:18 UTC Update
The last sentence of the twelfth paragraph has been changed to read, “In 1983, a UN committee comprised of ten member states (with the UN secretary-general and UNFPA’s executive director as ex-officio members) presented the first UN Population Award to Gandhi and Qian, in recognition of their contributions to population control.”