Population Matters

Is India now bigger than China?

Is India now bigger than China?

According to a Chinese academic, China’s official population figures are inaccurate – with the result that at an estimated 1.31bn  people, India has overtaken it as the world’s most populous country. While Yi Fuxian’s own figures have been questioned by other experts, the issue has highlighted the significance of these two countries to future population change and environmental impact.

The Washington Post reports that the  Chinese academic, currently working at a US university, says that China’s birth rate is lower tan official statistics claim, at 377.6 million new births in the last 25 years, rather than 465 million, as the government reports. As a result, its current population will be under 1.3 billion, rather than he 1.37bn currently estimated.

Although Chinese official statistics are notoriously unreliable,  other experts have challenged Yi’s claims, acknowledging that current figures may not be entirely accurate but saying that he has overstated his case.

Two giants

China flagWhatever the precise ranking, India and China are currently the world’s most populous countries by a large margin. India’s fertility rate (TFR*) has dropped by two-thirds since 1960 and at 2.4, is just below the global average and just above the “replacement rate” at which numbers of births and deaths eventually become equal. With a TFR of 1.6, China’s fertility is among the world’s lowest, although it appears to be climbing following abandonment of the coercive “one child policy” in 2015.

Low fertility rates (ie numbers of children per family) do not necessarily mean low population growth, however. Countries with large numbers of young people have proportionately more families, driving overall number of births up. India’s population is expected to grow by 350 million by 2050.

Environmental challenges

In addition to increasing populations, China and India are both becoming more affluent. As a result, their CO2 emissions per person are increasing, alongside the increasing number of people.

Both countries are signatories to the Paris climate agreement and are taking significant steps to reduce their overall CO2 emissions. Their large populations mean, however, that they join the USA in the top three contributors to global warming in the world.

China's per capita carbon emissions
China’s per capita carbon emissions
Graph: India's per capita CO2 emissions
India’s per capita CO2 emissions 1960-2013

*Total fertility rate is the standard measure of fertility used by demographers, statisticians and policymakers. It is the average number of children a woman of childbearing age would be expected to have if current fertility rates did not change during her childbearing years. It provides an indication of average family size. Birth rate – officially the total number of live births per 1,000 of a population in a year – is affected by the number of young adults in a population. The more of them there are in proportion to the overall population, the more women will be having children and the number of births increases.