Only China has more people than India. But according to forecasts by the United Nations, this is likely to change in the coming year: by then there will be over 1.4 billion inhabitants in both countries. Beyond that, India's population is expected to continue to grow while China's is declining.
In the last century, both countries had taken measures to ensure that population growth was slowed down. These are challenges for the new most populous country in the world:
young and old
Around two-thirds of India's population - ie around 900 million people - are of working age between 15 and 64. And this group is likely to continue to grow in the coming years - unlike in western countries such as Germany, where the population is increasingly aging. Indian politicians have consistently referred to this as the "demographic dividend," a boost to the economy and an opportunity to improve the lives of millions.
education and jobs
So the many young people could be an opportunity for India. But there is a problem: Although the economy is growing relatively quickly, companies in the service sector, which generate comparatively few jobs, are primarily responsible for the growth. Many cannot find a job and depend on the money of their family members. They often don't have a good education either. After all, only relatively few people get a really good education at good schools - including at renowned engineering colleges in larger cities. According to various estimates, just a third of the women work, which is partly due to the lack of jobs and the conservative values in the country.
Alakh N. Sharma, director of the Institute for Human Development (IHD) in the capital New Delhi. The country will hopefully create factory jobs with the government's "Make in India" initiative, which aims to attract foreign and Indian companies by reducing bureaucratic hurdles, among other things. Finally, the government should allow more women to get higher education.
If all of this happens, India can really reap its "demographic dividends" before India's population - like China and the West - begins to age, Sharma believes. "It's going to be difficult for India, but I have hope," says Sharma he. "It won't happen overnight, but it has to happen soon."
health and sickness
In India, the number of people who died from non-communicable diseases such as heart or lung diseases has increased significantly: according to data from the Indian government, more than 60 percent of all deaths in India were recently due to such diseases, compared to less than three decades ago 40 percent. Reasons for the many cases of illness are, for example, the severe air pollution and malnutrition. At the same time, the government spends less than 3 percent of its budget on health, Sharma says. This also means that many do not have access to good health infrastructure: "India should afford health insurance for everyone in the next few years. The country can afford it."
poverty and wealth
Overall poverty in India has decreased over time - but because of its large population, the country still has the world's largest number of poor, according to the UN development program UNDP. Inequality in the country is also high and growing: according to the aid organization Oxfam, ten percent of the Indian population owns 77 percent of the country's wealth. While there were nine billionaires in 2000, there are now 199. Few people contribute much to the country's economic performance, many little. In less prosperous areas one sees little of modern India and of economic boom. And: More than half of the people live from agriculture, many from small businesses.
access to water
According to the World Bank, a good 18 percent of the world's population lives in India, but only four percent of the water resources are found here. So many people have trouble getting water. And the situation is being exacerbated by the climate crisis and the disappearance of groundwater, a government think tank warned back in 2018. Around six percent of the population – in absolute terms quite a lot of people – do not have access to safe drinking water. And poor access to water affects women in particular: they often have to queue for hours at water pumps or travel long distances to other water sources. Sharma believes that resource problems in cities could increase in the future as more and more people move there for work: "The government didn't really plan our cities. And you can see that."
With and without contraception
The population in India is still growing. But the birth rate is declining: For some time now, according to official figures, Indian women have only had two children in their lives on average, which is less than the reproduction rate of 2.1 required for a stable population. According to this, around two-thirds of couples now use contraceptives. Five years ago, only every second couple did this.