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India set to overtake China to top the world population league table

India's population numbers are going up as it ovetakes China
India's population numbers are going up as it ovetakes China Copyright PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP or licensors
Copyright PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP or licensors
By Euronews with AP, AFP
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India is overtaking China to become the world's biggest country by population. Both China and India have more than 1.4 billion people, and combined they make up more than a third of the world's 8 billion people.


Demographers are unsure exactly when India will take the title as the most populous nation in the world because they're relying on estimates to make their best guess. But they know it's going to happen soon, if it hasn't occurred by now.

China has had the most people in the world since at least 1950, the year United Nations population data began. Both China and India have more than 1.4 billion people, and combined they make up more than a third of the world's 8 billion people.

"Actually, there is no way we can know exactly when India will surpass China," said Bruno Schoumaker, a demographer at Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium. "There is some uncertainty, not only about India's population, but also China's population."

Still, when is it happenning?

Mathematical calculations from a range of surveys, as well as birth and death records, project that India will overtake China sometime in the middle of April. But demographers warn that it should be taken with a grain of salt since the numbers are fuzzy and could be revised.

"It's a crude approximation, a best guess," said Patrick Gerland, chief of the population estimates and projections section at the UN in New York.

Not long ago, India wasn't expected to become most populous until later this decade. But the timing has been sped up by a drop in China's fertility rate, with families having fewer children.

How is it calculated?

Demographers at the UN Population Division make estimates based on projections from a wide variety of data sources to get what they believe are the most up-to-date demographic numbers. The last update to the data used for these calculations for both India and China was July 2022, said Sara Hertog, a UN population affairs officer in New York.

The demographers then use a statistical technique to infer when India's population has surpassed that of China, according to Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor at Khalifa University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.

"The reality, of course, is that these estimates are just that," Gietel-Basten said. "But at least they are based on a relatively solid and consistent methodology."

Reproductive rights

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says the world should look at women’s reproductive rights as the key to shoring up “demographic resilience”. It says the focus should be on giving women more power to control when and how they have children.

The UNFPA acknowledges there is widespread anxiety over global population growth with demographers expecting it to peak at 10.4bn in the 2080s.

"The question is: 'Can everyone exercise their fundamental human right to choose the number and spacing of their children?'. Sadly, the answer is a resounding no," said UNFPA chief Natalia Kanem.

She said that "44 percent, almost half of women, are unable to exercise bodily autonomy. Unable to make choices about contraception, healthcare and whether or with whom to have sex. And globally, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended."

She said countries with the highest fertility rates contribute the least to global warming and suffer the most from its impact.

In its flagship annual "State of World Population" report, the UNFPA found the most commonly-held view is that the world's population is too big.


But it said that passing the eight billion mark "should be a reason to celebrate. It is a milestone representing historic advances for humanity in medicine, science, health, agriculture and education".

"It is time to put aside fear, to turn away from population targets and towards demographic resilience -- an ability to adapt to fluctuations in population growth and fertility rate," it said.

India overtaking China

Kanem said the ranking of the world's most populous countries would change significantly over the next 25 years, with India currently overtaking China at the top.

Eight countries will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.


The report said two-thirds of people were living in countries with low fertility.

"This is the first time in human history where not every country is getting bigger," said Kanem.

The countries with the highest fertility rates were all in Africa: Niger (6.7), Chad (6.1), DR Congo (6.1) Somalia (6.1) and Mali and the Central African Republic (5.8).

The territories with the lowest birth rates were Hong Kong (0.8), South Korea (0.9), Singapore (1.0), Macau and San Marino (1.1) and Aruba and China (1.2).

Europe is the only region projected to experience an overall population decline between now and 2050.

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