Young children accompany their mothers on a stroll in Chunni Kalan village of Mohali, Punjab | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Representational image | Young children accompany their mothers on a stroll in Chunni Kalan village of Mohali, Punjab | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

New Delhi: We have all heard the doomsday predictions about the implications of unchecked growth in India’s population, and demands for a population-control law from politicians make the headlines every now and then.

But the fifth edition of the Union government’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), released on 12 December, suggests the fears may be unfounded. According to data on fertility rates presented in the survey, India’s population is stabilising. 

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A population is said to stabilise once it achieves what is known as replacement-level fertility — that is the total fertility rate at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next. 

Replacement-level fertility is roughly 2.1 children per woman, although it may vary slightly with mortality rates. This means that if two adults have two children, it translates to the new generation effectively replacing the old one, without adding additional members. 

Data in the NFHS-5 currently accounts for 17 states and five Union Territories (UT) as the survey was delayed in the remaining areas on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

While data from some larger states such as Uttar Pradesh — India’s most populated — and Madhya Pradesh — among the top states by population — is still awaited, the areas surveyed throw up promising results.

Apart from three states — Bihar, Manipur and Meghalaya — all the states and UTs surveyed so far have reported a total fertility rate of 2. Even for Bihar, Manipur and Meghalaya, the rate has declined since the last survey in 2015-16. 

“We do not need a two-child norm and we do not need to have a fear of a population boom. India’s population is stabilising,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India (PFI), an NGO. 

“It is important to note that population is stabilising across states, this trend is not limited to some regions,” she added. 

Anand Lakshman, a Bengaluru-based public health expert and founder-CEO of AddressHealth, a paediatric primary healthcare service, said even the 2011 Census had confirmed that India’s population is stabilising.

Also read: Slowing population growth means time is running out for India to get rich

Many factors affect fertility rate

Experts say there are many factors that affect fertility rates, including the use of contraceptives.

Data from the NFHS, a multi-round survey conducted in a representative sample of households throughout India, shows that the decline in fertility rate has been accompanied by an increase in the use of contraceptives. 

In Assam, the fertility rate went down to 1.9 from 2.2 as the use of family planning methods went up to 60.8 per cent from 52.4 per cent. 

In Bihar, the total fertility rate has declined to 3.0 in 2019-20 from 3.4 in 2015-16, with 55 per cent of families now using different methods of family planning, as opposed to 24 per cent in the last survey.

“The data shows that use of contraceptives has significantly improved in the last four years,” said Lakshman. 

Dr Rajib Acharya, a researcher at Population Council, an NGO, said other factors that affect fertility rate include abortions, proportion of women who are married, and education. 

Talking of abortion, Acharya added that there is no data on the practice, and that there is no reason to believe it may have increased significantly.

About the second factor, he said, “Proportion of women who are married in the age group between 15-49 — that is the reproductive age group — has been 97 to 98 per cent in the last few years.” 

The age of marriage is consistently increasing in India. Except for West Bengal, all states have registered a decline in the proportion of women who are married, according to NFHS-5. “That would be another factor that led to the decline in fertility,” he said.

Research, he added, has shown that women’s education has the highest impact on decline in fertility rates. 

“When girls are in school, they get married later. They have better agency and their negotiation skills also improve,” he said.

Also read: Why India’s population growth will be much slower than predicted — 1.6 billion by 2048

Kerala sees rise in fertility rate

The only state in the survey that marks a rise in fertility rate as compared to NFHS-4 is Kerala, going to 1.8 from 1.6. 

According to Lakshman, it is not possible to draw conclusions on why this may have happened in a relatively developed state like Kerala. However, he added that it would be interesting to analyse whether the higher fertility rate is due to the migrant population working in Kerala. 

Workers from Bihar and Bengal — which have lower education levels — travel to Kerala for work and this may explain the increase in fertility rate, he said. 

“However, this is purely speculative at this point. We need micro-level data to understand this better,” he added. 

Among other notable findings of the survey, female sterilisation continues to be the most popular modern method of contraception in a number of states, such as Andhra Pradesh (98 per cent), Telangana (93 per cent), Kerala (88 per cent), Karnataka (84 per cent), Bihar (78 per cent) and Maharashtra (77 per cent).

According to PFI’s Muttreja, family planning should not be the burden for women alone. “It is not just a women’s issue, it is as much a men’s issue… The easiest contraception methods are condoms and vasectomies. So, men have to step up going forward. These are the safest methods of contraception,” she said. 

Muttreja said the NFHS-5 is good news, but cautioned that “we still have a long way to go”. 

“We should still make further efforts in the states and districts where there is a high fertility rate and unwanted pregnancy,” Muttreja added.

Among other things, she advised against complacency about the survey finding that suggests most families have access to family planning. 

“India should not get complacent because the number of people who need family planning services and access to contraception is still very high,” she added. 

Given the fact that the population is stabilising, Muttreja also pointed out that India has to prepare for an ageing population. “Given the demographics, we have to start really planning for the social security of the aged.” 

Public health expert Lakshman agreed, but said the demographic shift will take a long time since India is a large country. “Our older population is still very small. But some of the more developed states are definitely heading in that direction,” he added.

Lakshman said data from large states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is eagerly awaited because they have a higher impact on the overall numbers for India.

Also Read: India’s future population trends warn of many divides, so governance needs to change now


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  1. The data has to be analysed correctly. People who cant raise even a single child are having 5 kids and educated people in cities are so work stressed that they are now having either one child or zero. So lower socio economic class having more babies where proper education is not being given and are raised in very low standards. With all free policies of government tax paying class is feeling cheated. If this way you do average of fertility than it will be 2 only, but what will happen after say 50 years when most population will be from that class, not much taxpayers will be left, only people taking benefits from all government schemes will be left.

    Also low standards of living and education often give birth to criminals as happened in Nirbhaya case, though not 100% but such data should be analysed properly otherwise it would send wrong message to masses.

  2. Muslim fertility in India has declined drastically during the past decade and the hindutva section in India must be very happy about it.

    • People are more worried about muslim population increase, rather than population of the overall country. If Muslim population increase, we would see all sorts of problems, things which happened to Kashmiri pandits, or minorities an Muslim countries will definitely happen. Muslims will follow the books over human values

  3. This is just a ploy by Islamist to change demography. If the population has already reach 2 replacement rate then what’s the problem with the policy?

  4. Yes, when you take our country we have a complicated religious and caste set up and donot know what respect population stabilizing. Require full statics . Donot know the way some peoples statement goes religion wise feel ashamed as human beings. We require a balanced country. This is only country Hindus exists means we are most minors in only few countries Hindus staying. Let all adopt two or one child policy to check future population explotion

  5. It is not true highest fertility Muslim community in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in the place Hindu fertility rate one their Muslim community fertility rate are double.

  6. Obviously hindus fertility rate is decreasing and the state which has large demographic change saw the rise in fertility rate and lower marriage age for girls. Don’t sugar coat the harsh truth. India needs a two child policy and I don’t know why your page keeps coming in my chrome recommendation! I really don’t want to see your biased news

  7. See the problem is not that the population is not stabilizing, it is. But people who are least able to raise quality citizens are having many more children than the national average while middle and upper middle class is having very few children and a lot of them are eventually moving out of country. In the end we’ll have state-dependent unproductive population left in the country.
    Rather than making it a two child norm, make it a family size norm – the state benefits will only be given keeping under consideration a family size of 4.

  8. Please mention population trends between Muslims and Hindus, donot preach garbage on presence of secularism, highest fertility seen Kashmir Muslims and Kerala Muslims.

    • Yes, selective data interpretation in this article. The data is apparently enough to draw all conclusions except why Kerala’s fertility rate has increased. At that time Lakshman the ‘expert’ starts pfaffing. And then blames the usual suspects for any malady of any state – migrants from Bihar – when Bihar’s fertility rate is actually decreasing, showing that its population is informed and taking necessary steps.

      And if everything is anyway on track, why not codify it as law?

    • Very true brother. They never revel the truth. We have two children and on other end they have 20 . They want to change the demographics of the country.


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