United Nations, Nov 12 (IANS) There is a stark contrast between the fertility rates of the three largest Hindi-speaking states and six non-Hindi-speaking states even as India was nearing the population replacement level of fertility, a UN report shows.
“Although average total fertility (rate) for the whole country is 2.3 births per woman, it is above 3.0 in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, and below replacement level in Maharashtra and West Bengal, and the four southern-most states,” according to “The State of World Population 2018” report issued by the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).
In South Asia, Pakistan has the highest fertility rate of 3.3 children per women, while Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka with two children per women have dipped below the replacement level and Bangladesh and Nepal are at the mark with 2.1 children per women, the report found.
The replacement-level fertility rate, which is the average number of children a woman has to have to keep population at a constant size, is 2.1 and India is closing in with the overall the number of children per woman at 2.3.
If women in a nation or a region or a group have fewer than 2.1 children each, its population will go down over time, while those whose women have more than that will see their population continue to rise.
There is a marked difference between urban and rural areas and urban India’s fertility rate reached the replacement level in 2007, said the report with the theme of “Power of Choice”.
The UNFPA report did not give the fertility rates for individual states, but among states for which NITI Aayog provided data for 2016, Bihar had the highest in India of 3.3 children per woman, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 3.1.
There is, however, a contradiction in the number for Madhya Pradesh: While the UNFPA report included it among states with fertility rate was “above 3”, NITI Aayog said it was only 2.8 for the state, although it was still above the replacement level.
In addition to the six states mentioned in the UNFPA report, several others, including Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and Kashmir, also had low fertility rates according to to NITI Aayog.
Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Delhi Union Territory had the lowest – 1.6 children per woman, NITI Aayog data shows. (This almost on par with Germany and Italy which have a rate of 1.5 children per woman, and less than France’s 2.0, and the British and the US rate of 1.9, according to UNFPA data.)
Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab had a fertility rate of 1.7, and for Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, it was 1.8, according to NITI Aayog.
The UNFPA report said that in India “states with fertility below replacement level account for 50 per cent of the country’s population”.
“Many districts in India have fertility below replacement level, while about half have fertility of 3.0 or more births per woman.”
Low fertility is achieved only at higher levels of income and, therefore, India achieving the overall fertility rate of 2.3 is “unusual”, the report noted and ascribed it “gains in human development, reflected in improved health, higher attainment of education and decreases in child mortality”.
The report said that within India “the varied fertility rates do not clearly correlate with income levels and are likely influenced by a multitude of factors. The states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for example, experienced major fertility declines, despite limited economic growth. These states have comparatively less gender and economic inequality, and have also experienced rapid social development”.
The report said that unintended pregnancies contribute to higher fertility rates and “if unwanted fertility were eliminated through means such as increasing access to contraception, average fertility rates would drop by more than half a child per woman”.
“In India between 2005 and 2015, unwanted fertility fell sharply, from 0.8 to 0.4 children, reflecting a trend of couples having the means to prevent pregnancy and having their preferred number of children.”
According to a report by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), India’s population growth for 2015 to 2020 is 1.1 per cent, and is expected to go down to .97 per cent in the next five years and 0.27 by 2045.
Its population is forecast by the report to reach 1.383 billion in 2020 and 1.658 billion in the 2050.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)