India to overtake China as world's most populous country by end of April

Number of people on subcontinent expected to keep growing for decades, says UN

The South Asian nation is expected to reach 1.425 billion people, 'matching and then surpassing' mainland China. AFP
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India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by the end of April, the UN said on Monday.

The South Asian nation is expected to reach 1.425 billion people, “matching and then surpassing” the population of mainland China, the global body found in its latest estimates and projections.

“China’s population reached its peak size of 1.426 billion in 2022 and has started to fall,” it said.

“Projections indicate that the size of the Chinese population could drop below one billion before the end of the century.

“By contrast, India’s population is expected to continue growing for several decades.”

The UN's John Wilmoth said the organisation's population report last week had predicted that India would surpass China by the middle of this year, but that estimate had been made using data from last year.

The projection announced on Monday is based on more recent data, though still an estimate, he said.

"The precise timing of when this crossover occurs is not known for sure and it will never be known," he said.

The number of people aged 65 or over is expected to nearly double in China between 2023 and 2050, and the increase will be “more than double” in India, the report said.

“As a proportion of the total population, the growth of the older population in India will be much slower than in China,” the report said.

India had expected to overtake its neighbour as the most populous nation by the end of this year after Beijing announced in January that its population had fallen for the first time in 60 years, to 1.44 billion.

While the Asian countries represent 19 and 18 per cent of the world’s population, respectively, population growth in both has been slowing, but more rapidly in China.

Official figures from China's National Bureau of Statistics showed the mainland had 850,000 fewer people at the end of last year than in the previous year, whereas India’s population grew from 358 million in 1951 to 1.2 billion in 2011, according to the last census.

India releases its census every 10 years, but did not conduct the exercise in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sara Hertog, populations officer at the UN, said that her organisation only had an approximation of when India's population would overtake China, after they "interpolated population figures to identify the month of April as the likely timing of that crossover," she told The National.

"Given the limitations of the available data, there is substantial uncertainty around that estimate and the specific date is subject to future revision as new information becomes available," she said.

"India’s population is expected to continue to grow for several decades, although at a declining rate given that the level of fertility has fallen steadily over the past half-century. The medium projection indicates that India’s population could reach its peak size around 2064."

Both nations had “nearly identical levels of fertility” in 1971, the UN reported, with fewer than six births per woman over a lifetime. But fertility in China fell sharply to fewer than three births per woman by the end of the 1970s.

"It took three and a half decades for India to experience the same fertility reduction that occurred in China over just seven years during the 1970s," said Mr Wilmoth.

China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates in 2022, at 1.2 births per woman, the UN said.

Updated: April 25, 2023, 7:06 AM