The Lakshadweep Islands BJP administrator has caused a stir with proposals such as banning anyone with more than two children from running in local elections. Similar bans exist in Assam, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It’s silly. India and the world are faced with not too much births but not enough.
China once had a one-child policy, then allowed two children, and now encourages three. Its working-age population is shrinking, so it desperately needs more workers to increase its GDP. For a stable population, the total fertility rate – children born per woman – should be 2.1. This will not immediately stop population growth: future mothers have already been born. Thus, the population typically increases for two decades after reaching 2.1 and then flattens out.
India’s fertility is in free fall. It must let go of false fears of an excess population and prepare for a future with fewer and fewer people of working age (15 to 65) and increasingly older dependents. Improved medicine brings life expectancy to 90 years. New techniques extend service life, but at a high and increasing cost. Societies need a lot more workers to finance the care of the elderly. This is why many countries have introduced incentives for more children. Alas, none have worked well. The cost of educating children well has skyrocketed, so couples cannot afford even two children. Many countries offer free childcare, longer maternity and paternity leave, free health care for children and other such incentives. However, their fertility continues to decline.
The rate is lowest in Taiwan (1.07), South Korea 1.09) and Singapore (1.15). It is well below the replacement level in rich countries – Japan (1.38), Germany (1.48), United States (1.84) and United Kingdom (1.86). The rates are still above 3 in many African countries. But in Mexico, a traditional supplier of migrants, fertility has fallen to 2.14. America’s long tradition of immigration – despite Trump – has so far prevented the population from falling like in Germany, Russia or Japan. Yet the latest data shows that the U.S. population grew only 0.35% in 2019-2020, almost the slowest on record.
India’s fertility rate has fallen from 3.4 children in 1992-93 to 2.2 today, and is expected to drop to 1.93 by 2025. This is not because of sanctions like the ban from standing for election. This is because an ambitious middle class wants fewer children.
Far from having an excess of population, India is heading towards the global trap of an insufficient fertility rate, an insufficient number of people of working age and a huge excess of elderly people in need of medical care. expensive. Why then are so many leaders of the BJP and the RSS (notably Mohan Bhagwat) worried about overpopulation? Mainly because of their paranoid belief that Muslims avoid birth control, so the Muslim share of the population will increase and create majority Muslim regions, threatening Hindu supremacy. A BJP leader reportedly said that the Hindu policy of “hum do hamare do” (we are two and have two children) has been converted by Muslims into “hum panch hamare pachees” (we are five and will have 25). The BJP is fueling the fears of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, whom Amit Shah called “termites.”
The growth of the Muslim population has long exceeded the Hindu growth, but religious conversion has been a negligible factor. One of the main reasons is the traditional Hindu ban on remarriage of widows. Second, many Hindus are migrant workers, spending months away from home. Third, Muslims are on average poorer than Hindus and the poor have more children. Fourth, some of their religious leaders oppose birth control, although most Muslim countries now encourage family planning. Selective abortion of female fetuses (detected by ultrasounds) is common among Hindus but prohibited by Islam.
The Muslim share of the Indian population increased from 10% in 1951 to 14.2% in 2011, a slow growth over 75 years. But Muslim fertility is falling rapidly with rising incomes. It was only 1.4 in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016. India’s Muslim population share will slowly increase for a few decades before stabilizing, probably well below 20%. This poses no threat to Hindu domination. Bangladesh’s fertility rate fell to 2, below replacement level. Its per capita income now rivals that of India. The economic rationale for migrating to India has disappeared.
What lessons are drawn from this for India? Abolish all disincentives for large families, including bans from standing in local elections and sanctions on entry and promotions into government services. Abolish rules reducing benefits for families with more than two children, including health care for mothers and children and nutritional supplements for pregnant women. Legislate male parental leave to facilitate the work of mothers. Improve anganwadis in appropriate preschools when possible. Increase women’s safety and remove other barriers to women’s participation in the workplace, which is among the lowest in the world. Raise more workers and secure work for them.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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