India is on track to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by the second half of the year, according to new United Nations estimates released on Wednesday.
The United Nations Population Fund’s twice-yearly World Population Status Report estimated India’s population at 1.4286 billion, compared to China’s 1.4257 billion at the end of June.
That would make India’s still-growing population 3 million more than that of China, which recorded its first year of negative population growth in decades in 2022.
The report also put the world’s population at the end of June at 8.045 billion, with India and China alone having about 2.85 billion.
The science behind the studies is imprecise, and some estimates suggest that the switch may already have happened — but there has long been consensus that the switch was imminent.
UN population officials said it was not possible to give an exact date because of “uncertainty” over the data.
India’s last official government census was conducted in 2011, meaning its population is an estimate. And even the latest official figures from China may be subject to error.
India’s 2021 census has been postponed, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration citing COVID.
Since then, the delayed process has been plagued by logistical hurdles and even claims that the government wants to stall until the next election in 2024 is over.
But since 1950, India’s population has more than tripled, from about 360 million to about 1.5 billion today.
India’s economic weight, however, is still less estimated than that of China, and its GDP is about the same as that of Great Britain and France, both with a population of around 65 million.
China’s first year of negative population growth in decades in 2022
China’s rapid population growth, from 580 million in the 1953 census to 1.4 billion in 2018, has shown signs of slowing over the years.
The Beijing government ended its one-child policy, implemented at the peak of population growth in an attempt to control the number, in 2015, setting a limit of two children.
In 2021, China then said families would be allowed to have three children, as statistics suggested fewer people were taking the opportunity to have more children.
This process culminated in last year’s public census data, which showed the first year of population decline in decades.
The Chinese now live in a society, as nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, where population levels are more or less stable.
From 2 billion in the world to 8 billion in less than a century
Population growth in the two Asian giants roughly mirrors the rapid growth of the world’s population over the past 100 years.
Estimates show that the world’s population reached 2 billion people in the late 1920s before increasing rapidly between about 1950 and 2010.
Today, around 8 billion worldwide, the United Nations predicts that it will increase more slowly over the next few decades to around 10 or 11 billion before leveling off.
By 2050, the United Nations estimates that only eight countries in Asia and Africa – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania – will represent more than half of the remaining growth.
However, in one direction in particular, the rate of increase may seem deceptive. The average life expectancy in the world as recently as 1950 was only 45 years. Now it’s about 73. With this change more visible in the developing world, people living longer contribute to more diverse generations (and therefore more people) still living in some numbers.