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  • Physical Factors: The nature of terrain, soil, climate, availability of mineral resources; nearness to the sea and ports affect population distribution. Level lands with fertile soil having adequate rainfall support higher population.
  1. Socio-Economic Factors: Nature of economy such as well developed agricultural economy like. Punjab, Haryana, support high population. Similarly, industrial centres like Mumbai too support high population. Also the rate of growth of population is intricately related with stage of socio-economic development of a population. For ‘example southern and western states with better Human Development Indices (HDI) have slower or near Total Fertility Rate (TFR) growth rate.
  2. Demographic Factors: Fertility, mortality and migration play important role. A population with young age structure or with cultural beliefs has high fertility rates. The population will obviously be higher. Similarly, high density in urbanized and industrialized districts is mainly due to large scale migration.


The process of change in demographic attributes (fertility, mortality) of a population over a period of time is called demographic transition. This transition is accompanied by socio-economic transition i.e. development of society. In general, this process consists of four stages:

 Stage 1 — High death and birth rates, low growth rate of population.

Stage 2 — Rapid decline in death rate, continued high birth rate, very high growth rate.

Stage 3 — Rapid decline in birth rate, continued decline in death rate, growth rate begins to decline.

Stage 4 — Low death and birth rates, low growth rate. Phases of Population Growth in India

India’s population has grown steadily since 1901 except during 1911-21 when it declined slightly. At the same time the decadal growth rate of population has been consistently increasing till 1981. It started declining thereafter.

Indian demographic history can be divided into following four phases:

  • Period of Stagnant Growth Rate (before 1921): The population started increasing after 1921. The year 1921 is called ‘demographic divide’ in the population study of India.
  • Period of Steady Growth Rate (1921-1951): The population increased steadily with the development in medical facilities which reduced deaths caused by plague, cholera and malaria. Deaths due to famines declined and sanitation and medical facilities improved. Developed means of transport helped decrease the food shortage. Consequently, crude death rate declined, but crude birth rate remained high. It is called mortality induced growth.
  • Period of Rapid Growth Rate (1951-1981): The population of India nearly doubled during 1951 to 1981. Average growth rate was about 2.2% per year. Increase in agricultural production, economic development and improvement in health facilities helped. Living conditions improved enormously. Such rapid growth, death rates, however, declined faster than birth rates. This situation resulted in high natural increase. Thus it was fertility induced growth.
  • Period of declining Growth Rate (after 1981): Though high increase in population continued after 1981, the rate of growth started declining gradually. It signals the beginning of new era in the country’s demographic history. During this period birth rate declined rapidly from 34 per thousand in 1981 to 22 per thousand in 2011. This declining trend is positive, indicator of official efforts of birth control and acceptance of small family norms by the people.


  • The first Census in India, commonly referred to as 1872 Census, was conducted over five years between 1867 and 1872, and thus was not synchronous. Despite political and other problems, Censuses in India have continued to be conducted every 10 years.
  • After Independence, Parliament passed the Census Act of 1948 and created a post of Census Commissioner. Earlier, the whole operation used to be temporarily set up for 2-3 years and wound up after the census was conducted and results printed.
  • The Act empowered census officers to ask certain questions and made answering them obligatory for citizens. Information collected is treated as confidential and can be used only for statistical purposes; it cannot be used as evidence in a court of law.
  • Census is not only a head count. Besides the size of the total population, the Census in India collects and publishes information on various characteristics of the population, such as, age and sex distribution, social and cultural factors such as religion, literacy, languages known, migration and economic activities of the people. Besides, during housing Census conducted a year before the population count, information is also collected on type of housing, amenities and assets possessed by households.
  • Analysis of the data collected from several Censuses provide a unique opportunity to understand the dynamics of and trends in various facets of the diverse population of the country. Among the developing countries, India is the only one with 15 decennial uninterrupted series of population counts. No other developing country has done this.



  • According to the provisional population count released within four weeks of completing the Census, India’s total population in 2011 was 1.21 billion, up from 1.03 billion in 2001, thus adding 181 million people in one decade. However, the 2001-2011 decadal growth rate of 17.6 %, compared to 21.5 recorded during 1991-2001, suggests slowing down of growth.
  • Interestingly, the enumerated population size was larger than most projections, including that of the. Registrar General’s office that projected the 2011 population to be 1.19 billion. India is now expected to become the most populous country of the world by 2030 overtaking China sooner than earlier expected. India’s population size is expected to stabilize at 1.8 billion around 2041.


  • The state of Uttar Pradesh with 199.6 million people is India’s most populous state accounting for 16.5% of country’s population. Bihar (103.8) and Maharashtra (112.4) are other two states with more than 100 million people. Other large states are West Bengal with 91, Andhra Pradesh with 85, Madhya Pradesh with 73, and Tamil Nadu, with 72 million people.
  • Nearly 42.4% of Indians now live in formerly undivided Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan; a proportion that has increased from 40% in 1991. Conversely, the proportion of Indians living in the four southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh has decreased from 22.5% in 1991 to 20.8% in 2011, causing concerns about their representation in parliamentary democracy.


  • Density of population is expressed as man land ratio i.e. number of persons per unit area. The density of India as per 2011 census is 382 persons/km2. India is among top five most densely populated countries. Heavy pressure of population on land is one of the serious problems of the country.
  • The density of population is continuously increasing. In 1921 it was only 81 persons/km2, 117 persons in 1951, 177 persons in 4971, 267 persons in 1991, 324 persons in 2001 and now 382 persons by 2011.

The state wise density varies considerably:

Maximum Density Minimum Density
State Density
State Density
Bihar 1102 Arunachal Pradesh 17
West Bengal 1029 Mizoram 52
Kerala 859 Jammu & Kashmir 56
Uttar Pradesh 828 Sikkim 86
Haryana 573 Nagaland 119


  • Also we have Delhi with 9340, Chandigarh 9252 and Pudducherry with 2598 personsikm2.
  • Thus States with very high density are located in Satluj-Ganga Plains, while mountainous Himalayan States have least population density. Peninsular States except Kerala (859) and Tamil Nadu (555) are marked with moderate density.
  • The density of population in general reflects the role of agricultural land, socio-economic and cultural factors. Urbanisation, industrialization and other non farm activities and consequential immigration of people also alter density, patterns. West Bengal, Kerala and Delhi are typical examples of these factors


  • Among the major states, Bihar with 25.1% growth rate during 2001-2011is the fastest growing state. Decadal Growth rates have exceeded 20% in all the core-north India states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (including Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh).
  • Kerala’s growth rate during 2001-2011 of 4.9% is indicative of the state reaching stationary population in the next 10-20 years. Growth rate around 11-13% is reported by Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal and around 15-16 % by Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Southern states are the harbinger of population stabilization.


  • India has witnessed remarkable progress in spread of literacy. Compared to barely 18 percent of India’s population recorded as literate in the first Census after Independence, according to the 2011 Census, that proportion has gone up to 74 percent. The achievement among males has been from 27 to 82 percent in the 60 years. From less than one in 10 women counted as literate in 1951, today two out of three women are enumerated as literate.
  • Nationally, the gender gap in spread of literacy began to narrow first in 1991 and the pace has accelerated. However, there are large state variations in the gender gap with Rajasthan reporting nearly 28 percentage point gap and other core North Indian states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand reporting a gap between male and female literacy rate of more than 20 percentage points.
  • Compared to 2001, in 2011 male literacy rate increased by 6 percentage points but female literacy increased by nearly 12 percentage points, which is viewed as a remarkable achievement. Some have attributed it to the success of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India’s flagship programme launched in 2001-02 to universalize elementary education. Male literacy exceeds 75% throughout the country and exceeds 90% in Kerala and some of the smaller states.
  • The achievement in female literacy in Bihar is noteworthy; from 33% in 2001, it has gone up to 53% or by 20 percentage points. The states causing concern as far as female literacy is concerned are Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh — both have reported 8 percentage point increase during 2001-2011 and both have less than 60% female literacy.


  • A satisfying thing is that female to male sex ratio of population has began to improve — from 927 in 1991 to 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011. Yet, compared to what is observed elsewhere in most countries in the world, India’s sex ratio is anomalous. Why there were fewer women in India compared to men in the total population.
  • The possible reasons were: under enumeration of women, more masculine sex ratio at birth compared to observed in other populations, higher mortality experienced by women compared to men due to epidemics (such as plague, malaria and influenza) or deficiency diseases, or due to neglect, premature cohabitation and unskillful midwifery. Except for the persistent survival disadvantage that women experienced from early infancy well into the reproductive period, evidence did not support any of the other factors.
  • The female to male sex ratio of population historically noted in the contiguous area of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, has improved between 2001 and 2011, but it is still below 900 women per 1000 men. On the other hand, sex ratio close to unity is recorded in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. This phenomenon observed since the beginning of the 20th Century has persisted even now.


  • Since 1981 Indian Censuses have made available data on population in the age group 0-6 by sex, as a by product of information on literacy rates which are calculated for 7+ population, enabling calculation of sex ratio of children in the age group 0-6. (Typically, age data are generated in five year age groups and thus most populations would provide data on children in the age group 0-4 and not 0-6.) The Census Commissioner’s office has calculated sex ratio of children aged 0-6 from the previous Censuses of 1961 and 1971 also showing the trend over 50 years.
Sex Ratio of Population and of Children aged 0-6 Years in India, 1961-2011
Sex ratio of total

Sex ratio of children aged 0-6


1961                    941 976
1971 930     964  
        1981                    934                          962
        1991 937                    945  
      2001 933                    927  
        2011 940 914  


  • As evident in Table, the child sex ratio has steadily declined from 976 in 1961 to 927 in 2001 and further to 914 in 2011. This phenomenon has drawn world wide attention and is largely attributed to the increasing practice of sex detection and selectively aborting female fetuses. Between 2001 and 2011, child sex ratio fell in practically the whole country, giving credence to a belief that the practice of female selective abortion is spreading to parts of the country, where it was not noted earlier.
  • Child sex ratio improved in 2011 from the level in 2001 in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and marginally in Gujarat; the states where it was below 850. In 2011 in these states, there are still less than 900 girls for 1000 boys.
  • In a patriarchal Indian society son preference is known to have existed for centuries and persists even today. According to the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted during 2005-06, nearly a quarter of women would prefer more sons than daughters but hardly any would desire more daughters than sons.
  • Further, in depth analysis of the NFHS data have shown that when the couple wants to limit the family size to two or three children only, if the first child is a daughter, the probability of determining the sex of the second child and aborting the foetus if it is of a girl, is quite high. Thus, while the small family norm has become quite acceptable, son preference persists.
  • Widespread availability and use of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex determination led to PNDT (Pre-Natal diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of misuse) Act) in 1994 banning their use for determining the sex of foetus or revealing it to the parents.
  • The Act was amended and made more stringent in 2003 by allowing appropriate authorities even at the district level to take legal action against the use of sex selection technique by any person at any place. Despite the Act and the widespread campaign promoting ‘save the girl child’ messages, decline in child sex ratio has continued leading to a concern that neither the implementation of the Act nor the campaign messages have been very effective.
  • However, it is important to recognize that besides female selective abortion, girls in Indian have for many decades continued to experience higher mortality compared to boys. Even in recent years, according to the 2008 Sample Registration System data, death rate among girls aged 1-4 years was nearly 40% higher compared to boys. If the sex differentials in mortality continue favouring boys, the deficit of girls would increase over time. When higher female child mortality is coupled with sex selection and female selective abortion, the deficit of girls would indeed increase at a faster pace.


  • The 2011 Census is the first one in many decades which counted less absolute number of children in the 0-6 age group. Compared to 2001 Census count of 164 million children, there were 159 million children in 2011, or there were 5 million fewer children in India. This is evident in the share of children in the total population, which declined from 16 percent in 2001 to 13.1 percent in 2011. Among the major states, the only exceptions were Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir, which reported some absolute increase in their child population.
  • In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, children aged 0-6 constitute less than 10 percent of the population but in Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, children’s share in the total population is almost 18 percent. The decline in child population reflects decline in fertility; total fertility rate in India has come down from an average of 3.1 children born per woman in 2001 to 2.7 in 2009.
  • It implied that India will overtake China by 2030 rather than a decade or so later. Yet, there is no escape from this even though planners, policy makers and programme managers express panic from time to time and attribute India’s social and economic problems to its size and growth rate.
  • The family-size preferences of young people now entering the childbearing ages even in North India states are significantly lower than the preferences reported by their parents at the same stage in life. Therefore, good quality uninterrupted family planning and reproductive health services are provided; there is no reason to believe that their preferences and aspirations will not be translated into actual practice.
  • The further decline in child sex ratio, in spite of 15 years of ban on sex determination test, makes us somber with realization that social legislation serves a purpose only up to a point or that fear of punishment does not always act as a deterrent. It is time we understand and address the cultural and social factors that undervalue girls. Bringing about behavioural change is a tough but a necessary assignment.



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