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Demographic trends tell us that the working age population will continue to rise till 2040
Jobs, employment and unemployment are some of the words which have dominated the public and political debates in India in recent years. In the just concluded State elections also this issue was in prominence. For a study on ‘Demographic Dividend in India’, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) carried out population projections up to the year 2061.
As per these projections and analysis, large number of people are getting added in the working-age category of 15-59 years, and creating employment opportunities for them is a real and an urgent need.
Overall, on the population front, there is good news. Population, though growing, is doing so rather slowly. The 2011 Census revealed a notable reduction in the population growth rate. The percentage decennial growth during 2001-2011 registered the sharpest decline since Independence. For 2001-2011, this decennial growth was 17.64 per cent — a decrease of 3.9 percentage points from the period 1991-2001.
It can be safely argued that India has entered a low fertility era. Though the national Total Fertility Rate (TFR) — children per woman — is 2.3, TFR in all but seven States in India has fallen below 2.1, the replacement level of fertility. Moreover, the pace of fertility decline in the seven high fertility States has also picked up and these too are set to fall below replacement level soon.
Though the fertility has declined and will keep declining further, the population will keep growing for some more years due to a phenomenon called ‘population momentum’. As per the population projections by UNFPA, the peak population in India is expected to be 1,657 million (or 166 crore) around the year 2060. After that, it is expected to start declining, albeit slowly.
More in working age
What is to be noted here, however, is that most of the increase in population is translating into a large working-age population, as can be seen in the graph. As India has moved ahead on the demographic transition, this increase has been and will be bigger in the initial years and less in the later years.
During 2001-31, most of the population growth (80 per cent of the total population growth) will get translated into increase in working-age population. India will add around 487 million people to its population between 2001 and 2031. There will be very little increase after that; just 151 million in the next 30 years.
Similarly, the working age population will see a huge increase between 2001 and 2031. Almost 390 million additional people will get added in the working-age category. The working-age population will reach a billion plus by mid-2040s. After that it will start declining.
Let us break it further. The first decade of this century, 2001-11, saw addition of 150 million persons in the working-age population. The number of jobs created during this period was low, resulting in unemployment or underemployment for several million people. In the current decade again, between 2011 and 2021, another 150 or so million people are getting added to the working-age population. That means we need to create 15 million work opportunities for these people every year.
On top of that, there is a backlog from the first decade of this century. After 2021, the pressure will ease a bit; 92 million will join the working-age population during 2021-31 and 50 million during 2031-41. After that there will be no incremental addition to this population group. So, in brief, the population dynamics perspective tells us that there will be higher addition to the working population in recent years and less and less in later years, which means that more employment opportunities need to be created now.
The key point of this analysis is that the population dynamics perspective needs to be incorporated in policy-making and programme planning, especially in the skills development and employment generation programmes. The needs for the skilling of the people, especially the young people will be different in different time periods and should be planned for accordingly.
It is important that similar analysis is undertaken at the State level so that each of them can assess the number of people to be skilled and provided with employment opportunities to help them make informed short- and long-term policies and programmes, accordingly.
The writer is National Programme Officer, United Nations Population Fund