“The hype about India’s ‘demographic dividend.”

(Excerpts from an article on rediff.com published today.)

Now a leading American demographer has debunked the hype about India’s ‘demographic dividend.’


Armed with several slides and reams of demographic data, Nicholas Eberstadt, a senior political economist and demographer at the American Enterprise Institute — a Washington, DC think-tank — poured cold water on India’s ‘demographic dividend’ that arises from more than half its population being under the age of 30 and hence the vast labour and services pool it offers India for years to come to propel its already galloping economic growth rates.


While some areas and states have experienced rapidly falling birthrates and increasing levels of literacy, accompanied by rapid economic growth, he pointed out other states beset by population increases and falling education levels had continued to fall way behind.


Eberstadt declared, “In India, two different Indias are being born — two very different societies or social groupings within India.”

“In the north, the outlook is for a population with a structure very much like a traditional low-income population pyramid — like Pakistan, like Afghanistan, like Yemen. Like traditional societies.”

However, in the south, he said, “something different is emerging, something that is going to look like Western Europe in the 1990s — more labour force growth society that is starting to age demographically.”

Thus, according to Eberstadt, “To oversimplify immensely the two different Indias, in the north, the baby factories and in the south, jobs and growth factories.”

“The problem is, that the babies — the young, prospective manpower — that’s being generated in the north does not have the educational qualifications to fit the demands, to fit the needs, for the job factory, the growth factory in the south.”


He also said, “India is about 50 years behind China in the quest to eliminate illiteracy. At this point of time, about a third of India’s working age population has never been to school and on current trajectories, even 20 years from now, about almost a fifth of India’s working age population will not ever have had any formal education — not even one year of schooling.”

Dismissing some of the projections, which he said were being bandied about by some of India’s Planning Commission members about projections for the year 2030, that India could have a per capital output level that would be comparable to South Korea in the mid-1990s, Eberstadt implied that this was virtually delusional.

“In the mid to late 1990s, South Korea’s proportion of working age population with no education was approximately zero,” he pointed out. “How do you reach South Korean mid-1990s levels of per capita productivity when nearly a fifth of the workforce has never been to school? I don’t see that you can. I don’t know how you can.”


“This is a challenge for India’s development in the decades immediately ahead,” he said. “It may mean that the prospect for growth would be much slower than some currently expect, absent a real rededication and commitment to turning the slogan Education for All into genuine palpable action.”


Full article at http://www.rediff.com/getahead/report/india-demographic-dividend-education-youth/20110318.htm


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4 thoughts on ““The hype about India’s ‘demographic dividend.”

  1. Ravi March 19, 2011 at 9:42 am Reply

    The notion that north India is a baby factory and south is job and growth factory may not be fully correct. During 70’s we have seen Venkatarmans and Srinivas Raos as Chief Secretaries from various government departments. They are retired and gone. Now, every year the administrative cadre is getting filled up by youngsters from north. Last time I was in Chennai I heard lot of spoken Hindi – in and around Chennai (a rarity during my childhood). Outskirts of Delhi (probably Noida region) encompasses lot of BPO companies, who are doing back office work for UK and USA. I am sure there is lot of catching up is needed by north to match the south, the question is who is controlling these things?

  2. jothicharles March 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Ravi. The main employer of people in India is the private sector and comparatively the employment in govt. sector is minimal. Besides your experience of 40 ago, of Southies working in govt in the North, though relevant even today should be seen as applicable to all India services and occasioned due to their service terms that makes it compulsory to undergo regular transfers to different parts of the country.

    I see presently droves of North Indian workers particularly in the construction industries down South. I have seen it in Chennai and here too where they are now laying a four lane highway nearby most of the labourers working and living on site are Bihari types. Recently when a new secretariat was built by TN Govt in Chennai it had a large mass of north Indian labourers. They were so numerous that when a function was held to celebrate the completion of the secretariat they staged Hindi programs right in front of the TN CM. Mr. Karunanidhi who was the anti Hindi hero of yester years. Not only did he sat through it but acknowledged in his speech that without the North Indian labourers the project would not have been completed in time. I haven’t heard of such a migration of labourers from South to North.

    This is actually peripheral to the main point of the article, which I think is quite strong. That North has more child births and poorer education infrastructure compared to South and so the claim of India as a nation with most youthful population is a hype because a substantial part of this youth is uneducated or under educated.

  3. Austin March 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm Reply

    During my recent visit to Kerala in 2009, I was surprised to see the number of north Indian workers in construction sites and cafeterias. I see this as a positive development to further integrate our country through language and cultural barriers.
    Our first prime minister was so enamored by heavy industries that he focused investments solely on building them while ignoring the primary education. Now we have a lot of catching up to do. I hope that the government realizes that and invest heavily in primary education to make up for the last time.

  4. jothicharles March 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm Reply

    Thank you Austin for your comments. The North Indian migrants come here out of economic necessity and as almost everywhere such a phenomenon may cut into opportunities of local labourers and in the long run could lead to conflicts. Being less educated they might find themselves as second class citizens given only menial jobs. Lacking in education most of them will be condemned to live the insecure life of labourers and a voluntary cultural integration with that of their adopted region and gaining respectability will be difficult for them. This may lead to social tensions vis a vis the locals as it is happening in some states already.

    This kind of migration is also likely to be mostly of rural to urban kind that is choking the cities of India and raising crime rates there. The solution is to stop lack of education and job opportunities compelling migration of uprooted people. And that can come only by better education – to make up for the lost time as you say, Austin – and job creation in rural areas with more attention to Northern parts of India not neglecting to address the same issues in South as well.

    As for your question who controls the policies, Ravi, I take it to mean as who should control. It should be controlled by those who are concerned about the future of India. But they don’t mostly have the levers of power. Or can they develop that by their thoughts and aspirations and work for the right change?

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