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What the Fertility Rate Decline means for India

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December 29, 2021

What is the issue?

National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5) has recorded a decline in the total fertility rate and public health experts are taking a moment to let this sink in, as it indicates the population is stabilising.

What has the NFHS-5 said about TFR?

  • The total fertility rate (TFR) in a specific year is defined as the total number of children that would be born to each woman if she were to live to the end of her child-bearing years and give birth to children in alignment with the prevailing age-specific fertility rates.
  • It is calculated by totalling the age-specific fertility rates as defined over five-year intervals.
  • As per the NFHS-5, the TFR has declined from 2.2 in 2015-16 to 2.0 in the latest one.
  • The TFR was 1.6 in an urban population and 2.1 in a rural setting.
  • The latest NFHS done in two phases provides information on population, health, and nutrition across India, down to the state and union territories.
  • According to reports, five states with TFR above 2 were Bihar, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur.
  • States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu has a TFR at 1.8.
  • The state with lowest TFR in this survey is West Bengal which is at 1.6.


What has made this demographic transition possible?

  • Better contraception initiatives
  • Government health and family welfare schemes
  • Education of the girl child
  • Increase in institutional births
  • Overall improvement in health and nutrition

Does this mean that India will not overtake China to become the most populous nation globally?

  • It depends on too many variables to make that prediction, including how China handles its declining population.
  • India has achieved the critical step of stabilising growth by pegging the replacement level fertility at 2.1.
  • But experts believe that India may still be on the path to becoming the most populous nation.

Replacement level fertility is defined as the level at which the decline on a sustained basis would result in a generation replacing itself.

What policy changes should the government make to adjust to this reality?

  • The government should focus on more of educating the girl child as the family’s overall well-being improves with education.
  • Education gives young people, especially girls, a greater sense of awareness and well-being that prevents early marriages and pregnancies which is critical in checking the population.
  • Alongside, family planning and reproductive health awareness need to be imparted to adults, and they need to be encouraged to adopt these measures.



  1. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blexplainer/what-the-fertility-rate-decline-means-for-india/article3799606ece
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