One in three of the roughly eight billion people in the world comes from China or India. Around 1.4 billion live there. And for a long time, China was number one with the largest population in the world. Now, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that India’s population will surpass China’s by mid-year, according to data from the organization’s World Population Report released on Wednesday. According to this, 1.4286 billion people will live in India and 1.4257 in China.

But when exactly India will replace China, no one can say, according to the United Nations. Accordingly, the exact data are simply missing. In India, for example, the last census figures are from 2011.

China’s population shrank in 2022

However, India’s population growth is likely to continue for several decades given its predominantly young population. China’s population, on the other hand, shrank last year for the first time in decades and is likely to continue to do so. According to its statistics office, the People’s Republic had only 1.411 billion inhabitants at the end of the year, around 850,000 fewer than a year earlier. Experts warn that the surplus of working people, which fueled China’s economic miracle as the “workbench of the world,” will be followed by a shortage of workers.

India currently has significantly more young than old people, more potential workers who could advance the economy. Indian politicians have consistently referred to this as the “demographic dividend,” a boost to the economy and an opportunity to improve the lives of millions. But there are still too few jobs for the many people – and creating new ones is one of the biggest challenges for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Population growth is also often exploited by populists. In Hindu-majority India, for example, more radical Hindus accuse the Muslim minority of deliberately fathering more children and trying to change the religious balance.

Countries have slowed population growth

Faced with anticipated problems, both countries have made efforts to slow their population growth – and both Asian nations have succeeded.

India has launched a corresponding program since 1952 – and called on people to have small families. However, a clearly prescribed policy such as China’s “one-child policy” never existed in the country. The program appears to have helped lower the birth rate. Meanwhile, according to official figures, Indian women still have 2.0 children on average. According to the government, around two-thirds of the couples used contraceptives. These are available free of charge in India. There are even financial incentives from the state for sterilization. In the past, people in the country were sometimes forced to be sterilized.

Chinese women only have an average of 1.18 children, according to official sources. The effects of the erroneous “one child policy” that has been pursued since 1979 are now becoming more and more noticeable. The lifting of controversial birth control only briefly led to a slight increase in births in 2016. The high costs for living space, education and health care as well as the dwindling willingness to marry are the main reasons. Having only one child is the social norm in China today. Two generations have never seen it any differently.

Beijing makes things easier for families

In response to the declining birth rate and rapid aging in China, three children were also allowed in 2021. Since then, the government has also been trying to make it easier for young couples to care for children. The costs of kindergartens and schooling have been reduced. Financial aid was granted, maternity and parental leave were made easier. Many women fear that motherhood will negatively affect their careers.

In China, for example, society is becoming increasingly older – just like in western countries. Fewer and fewer working people have had to take care of more and more old people for a long time. Today every fifth Chinese is older than 60 years. If in 2020 five employees between the ages of 20 and 64 supported an older person over 65, in 2050 there will only be 1.5 employees. In India, on the other hand, half of the population is younger than 30 years. But there isn’t a job for everyone who wants to work.