India’s fertility rate declines steadily since 1950, Lancet study reveals

A recent global research study published in The Lancet journal has shed light on India’s remarkable decline in fertility rates over the past seven decades. According to the study, India’s fertility rate has plummeted from nearly 6.2 in 1950 to just under 2 in 2021, with projections indicating a further decrease to 1.29 and 1.04 by 2050 and 2100, respectively.

The findings align with global trends, which have seen the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) drop from over 4.8 children per woman in 1950 to 2.2 in 2021. Projections suggest a continued decline to 1.8 and 1.6 by 2050 and 2100, respectively.

In 2021, the world witnessed 129 million livebirths, marking an increase from approximately 93 million in 1950 but a decrease from the peak of 142 million in 2016. Within India, the number of livebirths stood at over 16 million and 22 million in 1950 and 2021, respectively, with a projected decline to 13 million by 2050.

Despite the global trend of declining fertility, the study highlights that many low-income countries will continue to grapple with high fertility issues throughout the 21st century. The researchers from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2021 Fertility and Forecasting Collaborators emphasized that certain regions, particularly in western and eastern sub-Saharan Africa, will face persistently high fertility rates, resulting in a demographically divided world.

Moreover, the study projects a shift in the distribution of livebirths, with low-income countries expected to contribute significantly more to the global livebirths, almost doubling their share from 18% to 35% between 2021 and 2100.

In light of these demographic shifts, the researchers underscore the profound impacts on economies, geopolitics, food security, health, and the environment. They warn of a “clear demographic divide” between middle-to-high-income and low-income regions, stressing the need for innovative solutions to address the challenges posed by an ageing population.

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India (PFI), emphasized the profound implications of the findings for India, including challenges such as an ageing population, labour force shortages, and potential social imbalances due to gender preferences. She urged comprehensive approaches to address these impending challenges, including economic policies stimulating growth and job creation, alongside social security and pension reforms.

The researchers also stressed the importance of improving women’s access to education and contraceptives to limit the concentration of livebirths in high-fertility, low-income regions. They projected considerably steeper fertility declines in sub-Saharan Africa through the rapid scale-up of education and contraceptives access.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington (UW), US, which coordinates the GBD study, hailed it as the largest and most comprehensive effort to quantify health loss across places and over time.