The fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) offers clues to the future direction of policy-making that, if read correctly, could help India maximise a shortening window of demographic opportunity that is open to it. The headline finding — that for the first time the proportion of women exceeded men at 1,020 against 1,000 —is heartening, not least because it reverses and improves on previous trends. In the 2005-06 NFHS, the ratio had been at parity before declining sharply to 991:1,000 in the 2015-16 NFHS, a period that saw India grow more prosperous. The marginal improvement in the sex ratio at birth from 919:1,000 in the earlier edition of the survey to 929:1,000 in the latest one for 2019-21, but still lower than the natural sex ratio at birth of 952: 1,000, however, suggests that India has some way to go before the social bias for the boy child disappears. From a long-term perspective, the demographic transition implicit in the decline in the total fertility rate (TFR) to 2, below the replacement rate of 2.1 should be of some concern because it suggests that India is ageing faster than anticipated. The proportion of the population below 15 years of age has dropped precipitately from 35 per cent in NFHS 2005-06 to 25.5 per cent in the latest survey.
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First Published: Thu, November 25 2021. 22:53 IST