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China has emerged as a major force in the world economy, and many commentators feel that India is not far behind. Their economies are certainly growing rapidly, although the GDP per capita data in Figure 1 suggest that they are still significantly different from developed economies. Both countries are also outstanding demographically. They are the only two billionaire countries, both well ahead of the third most populous country, the USA.


SEPTEMBER 2005 507 Alan Marriott

Demographic Change and Population Policy in China and India
Figure 1: Key vital statistics for China, India and the UK (2004, except percentage urban, literacy and GDP per capita)
China Population (billions) Birth rate Death rate Infant mortality rate Life expectancy at birth Total fertility rate Median age Percentage 0-14 years of age Percentage 15-64 years of age Percentage 65 and over years of age Percentage urban Percentage literate GDP per capita (US$) 1.299 12.98 6.92 25.28 71.96 1.69 31.8 27.3 70.3 7.5 32.1 86 5,000 India 1.065 22.80 8.38 57.92 63.99 2.85 24.4 31.7 63.5 4.8 28.4 59.5 2,900 UK 0.060 10.88 10.19 5.22 78.27 1.66 38.7 18.0 66.3 15.7 89 99 27,700

Population trends in China and India
The 2000 Chinese census revealed a population of 1.27 billion increasing at 1.07% per annum in the preceding decade. The growth rate was the lowest recorded in any intercensal period in the post-revolution era. (The highest was 2.07% per annum between the 1964 and 1982 censuses.) India’s 2001 census confirmed the unwelcome passing of the one billion milestone (the population count was 1.03 bn) but the census also confirmed that the population’s rate of increase is slowing. The growth rate between 1991 and 2001 was 1.9% per annum, less than for any intercensus decade since 1941-51. Between 1961 and 1981 population growth had exceeded 2.2% per annum. There are sharp regional variations. One Indian state, Kerala, had an annual growth rate less than 1%. The highest growth rates are in the north east, where Nagaland grew at 5.1%, and other states approach similar levels. In the demographically conservative north central Indian heartland, growth rates are over 2% (Uttar Pradesh 2.3%, Rajasthan 2.5%, Harayana 2.5%, Bihar 2.5%) The highest growth rates in China were associated with economic growth (e.g. Guangdong, adjacent to Hong Kong, 3.1%; Beijing, 2.4%; and Shanghai, 2.2%), although remote, sparsely populated provinces with high proportions of ethnic minorities also showed higher than average growth rates (e.g. Xinjiang).

Notes: Birth rate: number of births per thousand members of the population per year Death rate: number of deaths per thousand members of the population per year Infant mortality rate: number of deaths in the first year of life per thousand live births Life expectancy at birth: in years Total fertility rate: number of children a woman can expect to have Median age: age which divides the population into halves Percentage urban: 2000, national definitions Percentage literate: percentage literate over 15 years of age, 2003 (China and India); percentage who have completed secondary education, 2000 (UK) GDP per capita: 2003, US dollars, purchasing power parity

Figure 2: Annual population growth in China, 1990–2000

Key 2.50% and over 2.00 to 2.49% 1.50 to 1.99% 1.00 to 1.49% Up to 0.99%

Although India can look forward to the dubious distinction of being the most populous country by mid-

century, overtaking China in the 2030s or 2040s, the longer term prospects are good. Some official projections,

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September 2005 no.507 Demographic Change and Population Policy in China and India Figure 3: Annual population growth in India, 1991–2001

The demographic transition in China and India
Figure 4 shows the progress of China and India through the stages of the demographic transition. In the middle of the 20th century both had high birth rates, India’s about 40 per thousand, China’s 35-40, and both had death rates that were falling from levels of about 25 and 20 per thousand. These characteristics are typical of stage 2 of the demographic transition, the early expanding stage. As death rates fall, the rate of natural increase rises. The end of stage 2 comes when the fall in the birth rate outstrips the fall in the death rate so the rate of natural increase itself falls. This happened in the 1960s in China, the 1970s in India. Now, China is moving towards the final stage where birth and death rates are more or less in balance. Figure 5 shows the demographic pathways followed by China and India, and for comparison by Hong Kong, now a special administrative region of China, and Thailand. Hong Kong was probably moving between stage 2 and stage 3 in 1950, is now in stage 4 and will remain there in the next half century. Thailand is approaching stage 4 and will certainly be at that point by the mid 21st century. China’s remarkable demographic history is clearly shown in the big movement in birth rates and death rates between 1950 and 1975, bigger even than Hong Kong and taking it past Thailand in the demographic transition. In contrast India, which started at a very similar point to China in 1950, will still have a higher growth rate in 2050.

Key 2.50% and over 2.00 to 2.49% 1.50 to 1.99% 1.00 to 1.49% Up to 0.99%

Rate per thousand

perhaps optimistic, anticipate that the fertility rate will fall to replacement levels by 2010 and subsequent growth will be that stored up in the population’s age profile. Government policy is to achieve population stability by 2045, but this is almost certainly not achievable. UN projections have India still growing at nearly half a percent per annum in mid century. Kerala’ s fertility rate is already below replacement, and only slightly higher than the highest European countries. Other southern states, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, also have low fertility rates although, to the confusion of those who look for easy explanations of demographic patterns, their social indicators not as good as Kerala’ s. China’s future population growth is expected to be much less than India’s and is expected to stabilise in the second quarter of the 21st century. If a relaxation of the population policy means that fertility falls less quickly than has been the case up to the
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present, the inherent growth in the population associated with a young age structure may mean that population growth continues even into the second half of the century.

Figure 4: Birth rates and death rates in India and China, 1950–2004
50 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 1950 1960 1970 Year 1980 1990 2000 Key China birth rate China death rate India birth rate India death rate

September 2005 no.507 Demographic Change and Population Policy in China and India Figure 5: Transition pathways
Growth rate +3% +2% Stage 2 +1% 0




the Party’s openness to data on population trends. Population science became an important discipline, but one linked to natural sciences rather than social sciences, a discipline based on quantification and forecasting rather than understanding social relations. Once the policy was fully accepted it was strictly enforced. However, it is almost certainly true that, because of the decentralisation of provincial administration, there were differences from one province to another. This was partly due to the differing proportions of ethnic minorities in the populations (the non-Han people were generally allowed more than one child).

Crude birth rate


Stage 3


Key 10 Stage 4 China Hong Kong Thailand India



20 30 Crude death rate



Some comparisons with the UK demonstrate that, although China is much more demographically advanced than India, it is still not comparable with a western society. It is true that the indicators of fertility are similar. The 2004 birth rate is only 2 per thousand different, and the total fertility rate is only 0.03 higher. The message given by measures of mortality is mixed. The UK’s crude death rate is higher than both China’s and India’s – but this is because the British population is much older. The infant mortality rate, the only age specific death rate given in Figure 1, is much higher in China than in the UK, and much higher again in India. There are also clear differences in life expectancy. Age structures contrast strongly. The three median ages are well spaced out and the differences in the percentage of young people and, especially, old people are marked. Plotting annual data for China in Figure 4 also reminds us that the demographic transition is not an inevitable linear process. The devastating impact of the Great Leap Forward of 1958 on birth rates and death rates is very clear.

population policies. The western viewpoint is to acknowledge the extreme pressures which brought about its formulation, but to deplore its lack of respect for human rights. The extreme coercion has received attention within China, but during its emergence the main focus was on the damage that population growth was causing to economic modernisation. There was little interest in population issues from the Communist takeover in 1949 through to the early 1970s. One of the first signs of a new viewpoint came with the introduction of the Later, Longer, Fewer policy. This was a public campaign to encourage parents to postpone their first child, allow a longer interval between births and have fewer children in total. The one-child policy emerged in the years 1978-83. If we look for a single date, September 1980 when the Fifth National People’s Congress declared its views, is the best benchmark. The underlying background was the perceived need to promote the four modernisations, in industry, agriculture, defence, and science and technology. Rapid population growth was seen as a barrier to economic progress. At this time China started to compare itself with the developed world rather than other developing countries. As part of the reassessment there had been a significant change in

In recent years there have been signs of the policy weakening. Prospective parents have become adept at strategies to circumvent the restrictions – reassigning ethnicity from Han Chinese to minority and encouraging multiple births, for example. (Note that the fertility rate is well over 1, see Figure 1.) At the same time, since the mid-1990s, the government has begun to gradually move away from coercion to a more health-oriented policy. China has endorsed and committed itself to implement international agreements promoting mother and child welfare. In 32 pilot counties there has been a move away from administrative dictat towards an integrated, client-oriented approach. This approach, centring on the needs of the mother, child and immediate family rather than the state, is to be introduced in more than 800 additional counties over the next few years.

Population policy changes in India
Indian demographers sometimes claim that India was the first country in modern times to have a population policy. While this claim has to be regarded with some scepticism – a number of European countries had pro-natalist policies in the inter-war years for instance, an attempt to recover from the shocking death rates of the First World War – India may well have been the first developing country to establish birth reduction as a national objective and the first to recognise that rapid population growth was a brake on economic development. India became independent in 1947 and defined its population policy,

China’s population policy
China’s one-child-per-couple policy is the most well known of all official
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September 2005 no.507 Demographic Change and Population Policy in China and India essentially one of controlling population growth, soon after. Over the years its detailed objectives changed. In particular there has been a gradual shift from control (a rather negative aim) to welfare (much more positive). In the 1960s, for example, family ‘health and happiness’ emerged as the core objective. The problem with improving family welfare in the expectation of falling family size is that the result emerges slowly. In 1975 India had its period of coercion, a state of emergency, during which normal democratic processes were suspended. The reasons for the state of emergency were primarily political with an economic underpinning, but continued population growth was held to be one of the factors which weakened the economy. This was the justification of the 1976 policy which embraced demanding family limitation targets making sterilisation near compulsory for those who depended on the state in any way. The policy, like the state of emergency itself, was short-lived but it significantly set back family planning in India. Any short-term gain in reduced fertility was lost in the subsequent reaction to the controls. The subsequent emphasis was on mother and child welfare; family limitation was not an issue addressed by national or regional politicians throughout the 1980s, wary that they would lose public support. Nevertheless time has healed that wound and international thought moved on, and now India has approved a national population policy designed to reflect the best practices recognised in the international community. Several state governments have developed their own state population policies which are normally closely consistent with central government. with large immigration levels, like the oil producers in the Middle East, have much higher levels.) Practically all developed countries and most developing countries have ratios in the mid or high 90s. The UK’s is 95. The underlying preference for male infants remains strong in many sections of Indian society. There are two trends operating in opposition. The positive attitudes towards women are strongest among the educated and the positive changes in the health of women affect all sections of society. Female death rates are now similar to those of men except among the very young. On the other hand there is a negative impact relating to the availability of affordable techniques for sex determination of foetuses. Female infanticide is long established in India, although difficult to quantify. Indian demographers have long assumed a sex ratio at birth of 110, compared with international values of 104-105. The ‘at birth’ element is misleading – the difference has arisen from female infanticide before the birth is recorded. Now, in addition, selective abortion of foetuses has become more important as antenatal sex determination has become easier and cheaper using techniques like ultrasound scanning and imaging. In fact there was a very sharp worsening in the sex ratio among children 0-6 years of age from 106 in 1991 to 108 in 2001. In China one unwelcome consequence of the one-child policy was a worsening of the sex ratio at birth from the late 1970s. This must have been achieved initially by infanticide of females immediately after birth and before the birth was registered. No doubt, as in India, selective abortion is now much more common. The policy response in the two countries has not yet been effective in reducing the differential. Both countries have legislated to protect the rights of women and in India there is a proportion of seats reserved for women in assemblies and councils. Both countries have official publicity campaigns against son preference. There are variations between states and provinces but generally prenatal sex identification and sex-selective abortion is illegal in both China and India. In China some provinces allow parents to have a second child if the first is a son. In India there has been an improvement in monitoring and prodaughter advocacy in recent years. But, at least in the short run, the situation may deteriorate before it improves.

Dyson, T (2001) ‘The preliminary demography of the 2001 census of India’ Population and Development Review 27(2) pp 341-356. East-West Centre (2002) The future population of Asia Honolulu. Greenhalgh, S (2003) ‘Science, modernity and China’s one-child policy’ Population and Development Review 29(2) pp 163-196. Lavely, W (2001) ‘First impressions from the 2000 census of China’ Population and Development Review 27(4) pp 755-770. Marriott, A and Sanchez, J (1998) ‘The Integration of Family Planning and Development Activities in India’ Geography 83(3) pp 237-245. Sanchez, J and Marriott, A (1999) ‘Demographic Change in India’ Geofile 348. Sheridan, M (2005) ‘Fertility-drug twins beat China’s one-child law’ Sunday Times 27 February.

Sex ratios
The populations of both India and China have unusually high proportions of males, reflecting the traditionally low status of females. India’s sex ratio in 2004 was 106 males per 100 females and China’s 105. These were higher imbalances than in any of the other 20 largest countries. Only a number of much smaller countries, like Afghanistan, have a larger excess of males. (Some very small countries
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Focus Questions
1. Explain why the UK’s death rate is higher than China’s and India’s. 2. What is cause and what is effect in the relationship between economic development and demographic maturity? 3. Is the demographic transition an inevitable progression or a general trend shaped by policy and circumstance?