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Analysing Aspects of Demographic Trends in India

India's Changing Population Profile by Mahendra K Premi

BOOK REVIEW

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Analysing Aspects of Demographic Trends in India to combinations of literacy and per capita income. For example, fertility among Muslim illiterates below the poverty line should be compared to Hindus with the
same characteristics. This is because, by
the author’s own admission, literacy and
Siddhartha Mitra per capita income are powerful determi

T
his is an authoritative account of the present state of Indian demographics and changes that have taken place in the recent past. The author Mahendra K Premi’s credentials are i mpeccable – a doctorate from the University of Chicago and an academic career at the Jawaharlal Nehru University where he served as professor of demography.

The objective behind this book was to communicate the nuances of Indian demogra phics to the general reader. Given Premi’s minimal use of technicalities, he has been fairly successful in making the discussions comprehensible to the g eneral reader.

Capturing Various Aspects

The book gives a fairly lucid yet comprehensive account of the various sources of demographic data – the population census, sample surveys and registration records pertaining to births and deaths. The size of Indian population and its high density, its regional spread and growth over time, etc, are all well captured by the narrative. There is in-depth coverage of the various determinants of population change – fertility, mortality and migration – with attention to how these characteristics have varied over regions and time. The phenomena of urbanisation and a ssociated secular trends are also c aptured accurately.

India’s Changing Population Profile by Mahendra K Premi (New Delhi: National Book Trust), 2009; pp 244, Rs 65.

In general, the book does a good job in communicating certain stylised facts about the Indian economy: the period of low and uncertain population growth till 1921 characterised by high birth rates and equally high death rates, followed by an acceleration of growth thereafter (because of a dip in mortality), and finally, in the 1980s a dip in the birth rate in some states bringing about a fall in the growth rate. It also discusses the adverse sex ratio in many Indian states because of female foeticide, the changing age structure of the Indian population marked by a decrease in the dependency rate, the rising share of megapolises (cities with populations exceeding five million) in India’s fast growing urban population, etc.

There are a few blemishes though. The discussion on religion-specific fertility rates shows that the Muslim fertility rate is higher than those for other religious groups. While as a statistical fact this might be correct, it has to be seen in the context of the Muslim literacy rate as well as the per capita income being lower than the corresponding Indian averages.

In other words, there is a case for disaggregation of each religious segment of the population into sub-segments corres ponding

december 12, 2009

nants of the fertility rate. If adjustments are made for these factors, then inter-religious differences would probably lose their significance.

No Dividend

A few comments about style and orientation would also be in order. While the text is written in an easy and friendly manner, the content could have been made more appealing to the general reader by connecting demographic realities to the concerns of the common man – economic growth, food security, poverty, traffic congestion, pollution, etc. An important opportunity is missed out in the discussion of the window of demographic opportunity currently available to the Indian populace.

The reader should note that this window is available because the high birth rates of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and the simultaneous decline in infant mortality were followed by a period of low birth rates. As a result, the working age group or the potentially productive segment has seen an increase in its share in the Indian population. This could be a boon if the observed increase can be productively employed or a bane if it is not. Premi’s book misses out on these nuances as it restricts itself mostly to demographic details and does not concern itself with economic implications.

To conclude, Premi can be faulted slightly for an “academician’s approach” to the study

vol xliv no 50

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

BOOK REVIEW

of Indian population because of painstaking attention to definition and detail, facets which are not of great relevance for the general reader towards whom this book is targeted. As mentioned, he makes up for it through his ability for non-technical exposition of technicalities but fails to point out

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vol xliv no 50

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Siddhartha Mitra (sm2@cuts.org) is with the CUTS Centre for International Trade, E conomics and Environment, Jaipur.

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