Not Population But Social Development
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu wants everyone to have more children. He worries that India is rapidly greying and would soon end up in a situation akin to ageing Japan. Naidu’s advice is gratuitous and in poor taste. In 2013, the average Indian woman gave birth to 2.3 children — a number called the ‘fertility rate’. This is still above what demographers call the ‘replacement rate’, which measures the average number of children per woman required to keep the population stable, reckoned to be 2.1. So, Naidu need not worry himself sick about India turning into Japan anytime soon.
India’s population growth is falling as incomes grow and social conditions change for the better. In 2013, for example, the poorest and least socially progressive states had the highest fertility rates: Bihar’s was 3.4, Uttar Pradesh (3.1), Madhya Pradesh (2.9) and Rajasthan (2.8). The social condition, educational qualification and employment opportunities of women in these states are appalling. Without exception, these states are economically backward. Unsurprisingly, socially progressive West Bengal (1.6), Tamil Nadu and Delhi (1.7) and Kerala (1.8) have the lowest fertility rates in India. The conclusion is obvious: as incomes rise, couples decide to invest more in their children, rather than producing armies of future farmhands. This fits with the halfcentury-old insights of Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992, for his work on ‘human capital’.
The people of Andhra Pradesh, where the fertility rate is 1.8, on par with Kerala, choose to have fewer kids because they want to invest more in each child. That way, these parents hope their children will be smarter and have more opportunities than they ever had. Who is Naidu to tell them otherwise? Get social development right, population will right itself.