It will prove beneficial only if population is healthy, educated and skilled

India will be one of the youngest nations by 2020 and this changing demographic condition, while providing great opportunities, could pose some challenges too, the Economic Survey 2011-12 has said.

India is passing through a phase of unprecedented demographic changes, wherein the proportion of the working age population (15-59 years) is likely to rise from around 58 per cent in 2001 to over 64 per cent by 2021, according to the Survey.

The comparative figures for China and the U.S. are 37 years, while it is 45 for West Europe and 48 Japan.

The ‘demographic dividend' would pose a challenge, as the average Indian will be only 29 years old in 2020, the Survey notes. In absolute numbers, there will be around 63.5 million new entrants to the working age group between 2011 and 2016. These changes are likely to contribute to a substantially increased labour force. However, it will benefit India only if the population is “healthy, educated, and appropriately skilled.”

The bulk of this increase is likely to take place in the relatively younger age group of 20-35. According to the Human Development Report (HDR) published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India is still in the ‘medium human development' category, while countries such as China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, and Vietnam have a better rank.

Notwithstanding the fact that life expectancy in India has increased by one percentage point from 64.4 in 2010 to 65.4 in 2011, it was way behind the global average and some other nations, including Sri Lanka.

Life expectancy at birth in Norway was 81.1 years, Australia (81.9), Sri Lanka (74.9), China (73.5), while the global average was 69.8 years.

Similarly, the performance of India in terms of mean years of schooling is not only much below that of countries such as Sri Lanka, China, and Egypt, which have higher per capita incomes, but also below that of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam that have lower per capita incomes. It is also much lower than the global average.

In terms of the gender inequality index, there is a higher degree of gender discrimination in India compared to countries such as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, as also the global average.

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