Since 1971, India's population has risen to almost double to 1.35 billion in 2016 from 566 million. In urban India, the total fertility rate has decreased to below replacement levels of 2.1.
India’s family size has steadily declined since 1971, contributing to the country’s economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the State of the World Population Report 2018 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the family size in India has decreased from 5.2 children per family in 1971 to 2.3 in 2016; and not just in India, but the shrinking size in families has also contributed to Asia’s ‘economic miracle’, including China, during the 1980s and 1990s.
“But this miracle also depended on the countries’ social and economic policies, and political institutions, which allowed them to realize the economic growth potential stemming from the fertility transition,” it added.
India is also among the countries which have witnessed a substantial drop in infant and child mortality, partly due to a wider reach of health care systems, economic development, reduced poverty and increased enrollment of females in primary and secondary education, it added.
According to the report, the fertility transition in Asia was facilitated by the government encouragement to limit family size as the children were seen as net consumers of a nation’s capital while working population was considered as net producers. “Without large numbers of children to support, nations could divert more resources to capital investment, and this investment would stimulate productive employment for the working-age population,” it added.
Along with El Salvador, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nicaragua and Myanmar, fertility rates in India are near replacement level, despite having lower per capita income than other countries with replacement-level fertility. Total fertility rate or replacement level fertility rate is the average number of children a woman can give birth to in her lifetime; and in India, it is 2.3 now. In urban India though, the total fertility rate has decreased to below replacement levels of 2.1 in 2007.
“In most other parts of the world, such low fertility is achieved only at higher levels of income. These countries have made gains in human development, reflected in improved health,” the report showed.
As per the report, the mother’s education level is the biggest determinant of the number of children she wishes to have in her lifetime. However, women in India across regions and all sections of society, are having fewer children than ever before, irrespective of education or wealth. There is some disparity between states in the country though, but as a whole, the average total fertility for the whole country is 2.3 births per woman.
“It is above 3 in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, and below replacement level in Maharashtra and West Bengal, and the four southernmost states,” said the report. Even in poor and rural areas of the country, fertility has dropped with the access to modern methods of contraception under government-run campaigns and improved availability of contraceptives services, including methods to space children, it added.