With India’s fertility rate -- children per woman -- declining from 2.2 to two between 2015-16 and 2019-21, we could be seeing a demographic shift towards an ageing population.
India’s fertility rate has fallen below the replacement level fertility of 2.1, as defined by the UN Population Division. A fall below the replacement level indicates a shift of demography towards an ageing population.
Population experts say changing lifestyles and life choices as well as government health schemes are reasons for this shift. Due to the National Health Mission, the institutional delivery mechanism has improved, which has led to a decline in infant mortality. “Fertility rate has come down because many are adopting the two-child norm to avail of benefits of government schemes,” says Suresh Sharma, head of population research centre at Institute of Economic Growth.
Infant mortality and under-five mortality has reduced from 40.7 to 35.2 and 49.7 to 41.9, respectively. This, however, does not affect the calculated replacement level fertility. “The percentage of women getting married below the age of 18 years has gone down, while that of women choosing not to marry and of divorces has gone up. Fertility rate is, therefore, declining,” says Amitabh Kundu, research advisor, Oxfam.
Kundu adds that with a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2, the population is likely to stabilise sooner than projected and we will face a serious problem of high dependency in a decade-and-a-half as China is facing today.
While 32 of the 37 states witnessed a decline in fertility levels, Tamil Nadu and Kerala reversed the trend in the last five years. In Kerala, the fertility rate increased from 1.6 to 1.8, and in Tamil Nadu rose from 1.7 to 1.8.
Fertility rates in Telangana, Tripura and Punjab remained the same during this period. However, despite an increase, Tamil Nadu and Kerala had one of the lowest fertility rates across the country.
Bihar, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur have the highest fertility levels -- even higher than the national average.
Fertility experts also said that a declined fertility rate is indicative of acute contemporary factors. Fertility treatment clinic Seeds of Innocence has seen a surge of 7 per cent in patients in the last one year.
“Lifestyle, profession, late marriage, egg freezing to ensure healthy delivery later are all factors leading to low fertility rate currently,” says Gauri Agarwal founder & fertility specialist, Seeds of innocence & Genestrings Diagnostics.
While Bihar averages three children per woman, the fertility level in Uttar Pradesh was 2.4. Jharkhand averaged 2.3.
Bihar was also among the major states that witnessed one of the steepest declines in fertility levels from 3.4 to 3. In Nagaland and Ladakh, fertility levels declined by 1 point from 2.7 to 1.7 and 2.3 to 1.3, respectively.
Rural fertility levels at 2.1 were higher than the urban fertility levels at 1.6.
While only five states had higher fertility levels than the national average, nine states had a fertility level of 2.1 or higher in rural areas. Delhi’s rural areas had a fertility level of 2.5, whereas Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan’s rural areas had a 2.1 fertility rate.
Except for Bihar, most urban centres had a fertility rate of less than two.
The data from NFHS comes at a time when some states have been embroiled in debates to impose harsher measures -- excluding families from government subsidies -- for population control.