India’s population is set to fall as its total fertility rate (TFR) or the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime has dropped below replacement level for the first time and is now 2.
This was revealed in the National Family Health Survey data for 2019-21, released on Wednesday for phase-2 states along with all-India data. The replacement level TFR, at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, is estimated to be 2.1.
Among larger states, there are now just three states — Bihar (3.0), Uttar Pradesh (2.4) and Jharkhand (2.3) — with a TFR above replacement level. From NFHS-3 in 2005-06, when India’s TFR was 2.7, it dropped to 2.2 by 2015-16.
Between NFHS-3 and the latest NFHS-5 in 2019-21, some of the most populous states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in that order, showed significant decline in TFR, which has helped India’s overall rate fall below the replacement level.
Phase-1 of NFHS-5 was conducted from June 17, 2019-January 30, 2020 and phase-2 from January 2, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Phase 1 targeted 22 states and UTs, and the second, 14 states and UTs. Barring Bihar, urban TFR in all states is below replacement level.
Even rural TFR is above replacement level only in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand among the larger states and in Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram among the smaller states.
The lowest fertility rate among larger states is in J&K at 1.4. It is also the state that recorded the highest decline of 0.6 in fertility rate between the last NFHS survey in 2015-16 and the latest one. Among larger states, Kerala and Punjab had the lowest fertility rate of 1.6 in NFHS-4, followed by Tamil Nadu with 1.7.
However, while Punjab’s fertility rate has remained the same, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the only states in India where fertility rate went up, though marginally, to 1.8 in the 2019-21 survey. Sikkim has the lowest fertility rate of 1.1.
This is equivalent to the lowest fertility rate in the world of 1.1 in South Korea. According to UN Population data, the highest fertility rate is in Niger (6.9) and Somalia (6.1). Among the neighbouring countries,
Nepal has the lowest fertility of 1.9 followed by India and Bangladesh (2). Barring Africa (4.4) and Oceania (2.4), all geographic regions have achieved replacement level fertility rate of 2.1 or less. Asia’s TFR is 2.15, just a touch above replacement level.