According to data released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, with an estimated population of 1.4286 billion compared to China’s 1.4257 billion in the middle of this year. The United States is a distant third, with an estimated population of 340 million. The UNFPA’s State of World Population Report, 2023 shows that eight countries, including India, will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050. These countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania. The report reflects information available as of February 2023.
Population experts had previously projected that India would surpass China this month using data from the UN. However, the latest report from the global body did not specify a date for when the change would take place. UN population officials have said that it was not possible to specify a date due to “uncertainty” about the data coming out of India and China, particularly since India’s last census was conducted in 2011 and the next one due in 2021 has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Although India and China will account for more than one-third of the estimated global population of 8.045 billion, the population growth in both Asian giants has been slowing, at a much faster pace in China than in India. Last year, China’s population fell for the first time in six decades, marking the start of a long period of decline in its citizen numbers with profound implications for its economy and the world. India’s annual population growth has averaged 1.2 percent since 2011, compared with 1.7 percent in the 10 years previously, according to government data.
“The Indian survey findings suggest that population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public,” said Andrea Wojnar, representative for UNFPA India. “Yet, population numbers should not trigger anxiety or create alarm. Instead, they should be seen as a symbol of progress, development, and aspirations if individual rights and choices are being upheld,” she said.
The UN has said that rather than fixating on the effect of the world’s soaring population, the world should look at women’s reproductive rights to shore up “demographic resilience”. The UNFPA acknowledged there was widespread anxiety over the size of the world’s population, which is expected to peak at about 10.4 billion during the 2080s. But the UNFPA said the focus should be on giving women more power to control when and how they have children.
“The question is: ‘Can everyone exercise their fundamental human right to choose the number and spacing of their children?’. Sadly, the answer is a resounding no,” said UNFPA chief Natalia Kanem. She said “44 percent, almost half of women, are unable to exercise bodily autonomy. Unable to make choices about contraception, healthcare and whether or with whom to have sex. And globally, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended.”
Kanem said countries with the highest fertility rates contribute the least to global warming and suffer the most from its effect. In its report, the UNFPA found that the most commonly-held view is that the world’s population is too big. But it said that two-thirds of people were living in countries with low fertility and that passing the eight billion mark “should be a reason to celebrate”.
“The world population is rapidly reordering itself,” said UNFPA chief Kanem. While the population is now the largest ever seen, “the global average fertility rate is the lowest in living memory”, she said. “This is the first time in human history where not every country is getting bigger.”