India, Demography and Destiny

We’ve all known for years that China is the world’s most populous country.  It has been for all of our lifetimes, and it has been for centuries.  But that’s about to change in another decade or so.  India, with 1.2 billion people, is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation at some point before 2025.  And while historically demographers and politicians have been fans of burgeoning populations, at some point, it just harms the country.

Put simply, India is incapable of adequately educating or caring for those people that already live there.  Increases in an already massive population will just add to that burden, and the result will be a populace that’s not as economically productive that will have added social and fiscal costs.  Take, for example, education.  The nominal literacy rate, as stated in the article, is 74%.  Experts say that this is inflated, but let’s take it at face value.  With 26% of the population functionally illiterate, this translates into 312,000,000 people that are unable to read.  That’s more people than live in all of the United States.  When you make one statement about literacy, sometimes restating it in absolute terms does more to illustrate the scope of the problem.  Education is largely cut off to women in many parts of the country.  Childhood malnutrition is so widespread that one third of the children that experience stunted growth are in India.

So while India, on the surface, may appear to be roaring ahead, it’s necessary to remember that the country, and many others in the developing world, face problems so massive that they will cut into the stratospheric growth that the country faces in the years to come.  If you have a burgeoning economy, you’d better be sure that your economy is not just keeping pace, but outpacing that population growth.  Otherwise, the growth you had to begin with will just put you back, or even behind, where you started off.

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