The Age Of India-China Rivalry

As ageing becomes a prominent demographic feature across the globe, India looks to gain economically from a maturing China. Can India sit comfortably for long? 

Illustration: Aparna

By 2050, one in six persons in the world is expected to be over the age of 65. From 771 million persons aged 65 years or above in 2022, the global number is expected to double to 1.6 billion in 2050. Today, older people account for over one-fifth of the population in 17 countries.

These findings in the United Nations (UN) World Population Prospect 2022 and World Population Ageing 2019 reports indicate a global demographic shift that will unfold over the next few years. With that, there is a special focus on the two most populous countries in the world—India and China—and their ability to deal with that shift economically and socially.

The rise of the older population has been reported all around the world due to a steep decline in mortality. The transition from a high birth and death rate to their falling numbers has been observed as a common feature in developed economies, but in developing countries like China, which was anticipated to have 240 million people aged 60 and above by 2020, and India, it will not be as smooth.

In India, which is about to snatch China’s crown as the world’s most populous country, the rise of the percentage of the elderly in the total population has made the country the world’s second largest older population with 140 million people aged 60 and above.

As the world gets older, it is also intently looking at how the population dynamics will play out between these Asian neighbours and impact their economies.

China’s Population Puzzle

Following the one-child policy deployed by the communist country in 1979 as an intervention to curb its burgeoning population, there was an unprecedented fall in the country’s fertility rate. The Chinese government allowed female infanticide to keep up the traditional preference for a male child in the Chinese society. Couples were given the choice to pick the gender for their only child, and sex-selective abortions were allowed. The ramification came in the form of a demographic problem with a deepened gender gap that, in the long run, will further accelerate the decline in the rate of fertility.

Along with the gender gap, the policy, which was in effect for decades and scrapped only in 2015, also gave birth to rapid ageing.

China had already started experiencing population ageing in 2000. In 2022, the country came to be known as an aged society and has reported the fastest transition from ageing to aged. In comparison, many developed economies—like Japan (26 years), the United States (69 years) and France (115 years)—have taken much longer to reach the aged stage, as per the Asia Ageing report published by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2022.