Edu and development, key for better population indicators

India’s sustained efforts over the decades to achieve population stabilisation are finally beginning to yield positive results. This is confirmed by the Census 2011 data on Population by religious communities, released earlier this week by the Government of India.

The declining trend in population growth continues. However, the data also shows variations in population growth rates by religion and regions indicating the inter-connections between population growth and access to education, health and development opportunities.

The share of Hindus in India’s population has come down marginally from 80.5 per cent in 2001 to 79.8 per cent in 2011 – a decline of 0.7 per cent. In 2001, Muslims constituted 13.4 per cent of the country’s population. This has gone up marginally to 14.2 per cent – an increase of 0.8 per cent. The share of Sikhs and Buddhists in population has gone down.

The declining trend in population growth is secular and can be seen amongst all religions. The growth rate for Muslims showed a decline of 4.7 percentage points between 2001 and 2011 as compared to the previous decade. The decline in Hindu population growth rate over the same period was 3.1 percentage points.

We also find that the decadal growth of Sikhs fell from 16.9 per cent (1991-2001) to 8.4 (2001-2011), that of Buddhists from 22.8 per cent (1991-2001) to 6.1 (2001-2011), and that of Jains from 25.9 (1991-2001) to 5.4 (2001-2011). Such a drastic fall in growth rates of these groups, which are already less than 1 per cent of the total population, is alarming.

There are inter-state variations in decadal growth between 2001 and 2011. The decadal growth in Uttar Pradesh (20.2 per cent), Bihar (25.4), Rajasthan (21.3), Madhya Pradesh (20.3), Chhattisgarh (22.6), Jharkhand (22.4), NCT of Delhi (21.2) in North India, which contribute significantly to the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) have been higher than the national average.

In the North East, Arunachal Pradesh (26 per cent), Manipur (31.8), Mizoram (23.5) and Meghalaya (27.9) register higher than national average decadal growth. The decadal growth in Kerala (4.9), Karnataka (15.6), Andhra Pradesh (11), Tamil Nadu (15.6), Himachal Pradesh (12.9) and West Bengal (13.8) was below the national average of 17.7 per cent.

The other demographic shift of interest is that religious minorities with the exception of Sikhs, live more in urban than in rural areas. Whereas only 29 per cent of Hindus live in urban areas, 40 per cent of Muslims and Christians and a massive 80 per cent of Jains live in urban areas. Urban India’s population rose from 28 per cent in 2001 to 31 per cent in 2011.

The sex ratio also varies across religions.  The sex ratio (number of women for every 1,000 men) among Sikhs is low at 903 and it is high among Christians at 1,023. The good news is that sex ratio has improved in all six largest religious groups (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain), the most significant improvement being among Muslims (from 936 in 2001 to 951 in 2011) and the lowest among Hindus (from 931 in 2001 to 939 in 2011).

Similar to Haryana and Punjab, all religious communities in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar showed a worse sex ratio than the national average. A close analysis of state wise data suggests that socio-cultural norms seem to have a larger effect on the sex ratio than religion. In Haryana and Punjab, all communities have adverse sex ratios. In Kerala, the sex ratio of all communities (except Sikhs and Buddhists) is above 1000.

The demographic changes revealed by the Census data are along the expected lines. With increased access to education, economic and other development opportunities, a decline in population growth and fertility in communities and states is only to be expected.

Poverty and female education
Hindus and Muslims have fairly similar levels of poverty and female education in rural areas, but in urban areas, Hindus fare much better than Muslims. The differences are striking. For example, in urban areas, 49 per cent of Muslims are below the poverty line compared with 30 per cent amongst Hindus.

Muslims do, indeed, have higher fertility than Hindus. However, Muslim fertility is falling more rapidly than that of Hindus. As a result, the gap between them is shrinking. Between 1992-93 and 2005-06, the total fertility rate among Hindus fell by 25 per cent from 3.30 to 2.65, whereas among Muslims, it fell by 43 per cent from 4.41 to 3.09 children per woman.

While discussing religious differentials in population, one must note that fertility for a religion varies substantially across states. Fertility among Hindus of Uttar Pradesh is higher than that of Hindus of Tamil Nadu and the same holds true for Muslims. Also, the process of fertility decline in both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh has a wide social base and is not confined to any specific social group. This suggests that there is no ‘Hindu fertility’ or ‘Muslim fertility’ or ‘Christian fertility’ as such.

Substantial fertility declines have taken place in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which have better access to education and development opportunities. Kerala’s high social sector achievements have contributed to low fertility in the state.

There is nothing in a religion or approach to life that leads a community to have larger families. Rather, one should look at factors such as educational attainment, economic circumstances, poverty, position of women and marginalisation.
(The writer is Executive Director, Population Foundation of India, New Delhi)

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