(Online Course) Contemporary Issues for IAS Mains 2012: Yojana Magazine - Population Growth & Millennium Development Goals

Yojana Magazine


Question : How population growth can affect the Millennium Development Goals?

Answer: Population growth is the resultant of both natural increase and net-migration. Natural increase is the net of birth rate over death rate while net-migration is the excess of in-migration over out migration. Population growth has direct impact on seven of the eight MDGs. At the micro level, rapid population growth creates a demographic-poverty trap. Large families tend to be poorer, suffer disproportionately from illness, makes less use of health services. Smaller families invest more in each child’s nutrition and health. At the macro level, the amount of resources, personnel and the infrastructure required to meet the MDGs will be substantially higher with higher population growth.

Population growth and eradication of extreme poverty and hunger

Goal one of MDGs aims at eradication of poverty and hunger between 1990 and 2015. While poverty is measured with respect to consumption / income, hunger is measured by reduction of underweight children under-five years of age and population below minimum level of dietary consumption. Higher population growth adversely affects the reduction of poverty and hunger in the population, both at micro and macro level.

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At the micro level, large families tend to be poorer and it creates demographic-poverty trap. At the macro level, the higher rate of population growth means that in order to reduce poverty, the economies must not only grow at a sustained higher pace but generate new jobs and income earning opportunities at an accelerated rate. Similarly, poverty and under nutrition are intimately related. A higher proportion of children belonging to poorer and large households are undernourished.

The population growth in last decade, the crude birth rate, the poverty estimates and the trends in under-nutrition among states of India reflect a similar pattern. The estimates show that the states with higher population growth rate, for example Bihar, tend to have higher percentage of population below poverty line and higher under-nutrition than states like Kerala which have lower population growth rates.

The same trend can be seen in the smaller states, for example while comparing the figures for Meghalaya and Goa. The high growth rates in Union Territories are largely due to migration and the estimates of poverty and nutrition are not available. Studies have documented that the progress towards the MDGs have been slower than the required rate in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, experiencing higher populationgrowth (Ram, Mohanty and Ram 2009).

Population Growth and Universal Primary Education

Goal 2 of MDGs is to achieve the universal primary education and is measured by the net enrolment ratio in primary school, the proportion of pupils reaching last grade of primary and the literacy rate of 15-24 years old.

While many states have made commendable progress in primary enrolment in last decades, the school dropout rates and the quality of schooling is a concern. About 42% young people aged 15-24 years in Bihar are non-literate or literate without formal schooling compared to 31% in Jharkhand, 29% in Rajasthan, 16% in Andhra Pradesh, 7% in Maharashtra and 4% in Tamil Nadu (IIPS and Population Council 2006-07).

Population growth, gender equality and empowerment of women

Goal 3 of MDGs aims at promoting gender equality and empowerment of women. The corresponding indicatorswere ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education, share of women in wage employment and proportion of seats in national parliament. The recent trends showed improvement in all levels of education among girls, but the gender gap continued to be higher in the states with low level of literacy and higher population growth. However, the decline in sex ratio of 0-6 year children (not an indicator of MDGs) in many progressive states is the most worrying factor. The sex ratio of 0-6 population indicates the number of girls per 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years. The decline in sex ratio is due to three possible factors, namely, increase in sex selective abortion, higher child mortality and under-enumeration of girls. While the under-enumeration of girls has minimized in recent censuses, the gender differentials in childmortality has also narrowed down. Hence, increasing practice of sex selective abortion in the wake of reduction in fertility and strong son preference is leading to decline in child sex ratio. This phenomenon is more among better educated and economically better off sections of the population across the states.

Population growth and health related goals

Reduction of child mortality (goal 4) and improvement in maternal health are two of the health related goals of MDGs. The monitoring indicators to measure progress in child mortality are under-five mortality, infant mortality rate and the proportion of 1 year-old children immunized against measles. The under-five mortality is the probability of not surviving till fifth birth day while the infant mortality is the probability of not surviving till first birth-day. These are two sensitive indicators that reflect the health situation of the population. India accounts for one-fifth of under-five mortality.

The underlying cause of under-five mortality are pneumonia, diarrheal diseases, neo-natal infection and birth asphyxia, prematurely and low birth weight, birth trauma (The Million Death Study Collaboration 2010) and closely related to poverty. Regional pattern in child mortality shows that the empowered action group (EAG) states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa account for more than two-thirds of under-five and infant mortality rate.These are also states with higher population growth. The infant mortality is highest in the state of Madhya Pradesh and higher in Uttar Pradesh. Maternal health is measured by the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel. In 2007-08, about half of the deliveries in India were conducted at home without any medical assistance (IIPS 2010). The medical assistance at delivery is almost universal in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where fertility and natural growth rate of population is low. On the other hand, it is low in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Several government schemes including the Janani Surakhaya Yojana are operational to increase the medical assistance at delivery. The higher population growth rate increases the cost of service provision such as ante-natal care, natal care and child immunization to national and state government.


The progress towards attaining the MDGs is slow and uneven across the states of India. The prime responsibility for achieving the MDG lies with individual states. The increase in population due to high birth rate is definitely affecting the reduction of multidimensional poverty in many of the states. With limited resources and low levels of income, reduction of population growth will be beneficial to reduce the cost of resources, personnel and the infrastructure required to meet the MDGs.

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