Sex ratio and demographic attributes: Declining fertility rate in India

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Source: The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS-2- Policy

Context: Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report (2018) and global population projections made by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), US show that fertility has been declining in India for some time now.

What were the findings of the report?

  • SRS report estimated the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) as 2.2 in the year 2018, which is the number of children a mother would have at the current pattern of fertility during her lifetime.
  • It is estimated that replacement TFR of 2.1 and fertility is likely to continue to decline.
  • This report estimated the natural annual population growth rate to be 1.38 per cent in 2018 because along with fertility rate, the population growth rate also declines.
  • A comparison of 2011 and 2018 SRS statistical reports shows that TFR declined from 2.4 to 2.2 during this period and annual natural population growth rate also declined from 1.47 to 1.38 per cent during this period.
  • Population would not stabilise or begin to reduce in a few years once replacement fertility is reached because of the population momentum effect.
    • For instance, the replacement fertility level was reached in Kerala around 1990, but its annual population growth rate was 0.7 per cent in 2018, nearly 30 years later.
  • The UN Population Division has estimated that India’s population would possibly peak at 161 crores around 2061 at the medium-fertility variant, and will be lower by about 10 per cent at the low fertility variant. It will peak at 160 crores in 2048 according to IHME.
  • The six states with higher than national fertility rate (and their TFR) in 2018 are Bihar (3.2), Uttar Pradesh (2.9) Madhya Pradesh (2.7), Rajasthan (2.5), Jharkhand (2.5) and Chhattisgarh (2.4).

What does the fertility rate depend on?

  • Fertility largely depends upon social setting and female education is a key indicator for social setting. So, higher the female education level, lower the fertility.
    • For instance, illiterate women in the reproductive age group of 15-49 years have higher fertility than literate women in almost all states.
    • The percentage of illiterate women in this age group was higher than 15 per cent in all the high-fertility states, which include nearly 40 per cent of India’s population.
  • Programme strength is indicated by the unmet need for contraception, which has several components.
    • The proportion of married women who are neither pregnant nor amenorrhoeic and do not desire a child in the next two years or ever but are not practising contraception.
  • The National Family Health Survey (2015-16) provides estimates for the unmet need at 12.9 per cent and contraceptive prevalence of 53.5 per cent for India. This makes the total demand for contraception at 66.4 per cent.
  • Programme’s ability to reach younger people and provide them with good quality reproductive health education and services needs to be urgently strengthened in states like UP and Bihar.
    • Bihar has the highest fertility rate along with the highest unmet need at 21.1 per cent and the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate of 24.1 per cent among all the major states.

What is the state of sex ratio? What can be done to reduce the difference?

  • Sex ratio at birth: Biologically normal sex ratio at birth is 1,050 males to 1,000 females or 950 females to 1,000 males but the SRS reports shows that the number of females per 1,000 males, declined marginally from 906 in 2011 to 899 in 2018.
  • This adverse ratio results in a gross imbalance in the number of men and women and its inevitable impact on marriage systems as well as other harms to women.
  • Increasing female education and economic prosperity help to improve the ratio.
  • Government actions need to be supplemented by improving women’s status in the society.

Way forward

  • There is an urgent need to reach young people both for reproductive health education and services as well as to cultivate gender equity norms. This could reduce the effect of population momentum and accelerate progress towards reaching a more normal sex-ratio at birth.
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