India now has more women than men for the first time in its recorded history and is no longer experiencing a population boom, according to a new government survey indicating significant social changes in the country.
The fifth National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) conducted by the government between 2019 and 2021 found that India now has 1,020 women for every 1,000 men.
The survey of around 650,000 households also found that India’s reproduction rate had fallen to an average of 2 to 1.6 in urban areas and 2.1 in rural areas, which is the first time it has been for below replacement fertility levels.
This means that not enough children are being born to replace the older generation, suggesting that India’s population of about 1.4 billion may be near its peak, and it is a significant change for a country where in the 1950s the women had an average of six children.
India’s shift towards a predominantly female population is also a remarkable moment for a country that for centuries has been one of “missing women,” referring to the millions of girls killed before or just after birth due to the social stigma of giving light to a woman. daughter. It indicates the progress that is being made in the fight against sex-selective abortions, female feticide and the abandonment of girls and women, which have had a profound impact on the female population.
In 1990, when the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen first wrote about the 37 million women disappeared from India due to these factors, the ratio of women to men was 927 women for every 1,000 men.
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said: “It is encouraging to see the improvements in the overall sex ratio. It reflects the progress the country has made towards gender equality and the empowerment of women ”.
Muttreja stressed that a full picture of India’s changing sex ratio would not be clear until after the census, which will take place in 2021 but is currently postponed. The last census of India occurred in 2011.
Despite apparent progress, according to the survey, the gender ratio at birth is still 929 women for every 1,000 men, indicating that the issue of sex selection and female feticide has not been eliminated.
“With greater access to literacy and education, women’s aspirations are rapidly changing,” added Muttreja. “Girls are asserting themselves and taking charge of their lives, and they will play a critical role in the future growth and development of the country.”
The findings about India’s falling fertility rate may also have political implications. Several states in India, such as Assam and Uttar Pradesh, have introduced population control bills, which include limiting access to state benefits, rations and government jobs for those with more than two children.
They have been proposed on the basis that it is necessary to control the population of India. However, these bills are also seen to have a communal tinge and play on fears on the Hindu right that the Muslim population in India is increasing and creating a “dangerous demographic imbalance”.
India is not yet expected to experience a drop in its population, currently the second largest in the world, for another 30 to 40 years, in part because more than 30% of India’s population is between the ages of 10 and 30, and it is likely to have children for the next two decades.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism