Boosting universal access to reproductive health services and increasing female education on lowering birth rates would reduce fertility rates and “significantly slow” population growth in India, says a study.
The study is the first to assess how successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would affect population growth.
Achieving the SDGs would significantly slow population growth, according to the study by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Asian Demographic Research Institute (ADRI) at Shanghai University.
“We have shown if the SDGs are achieved, it will help speed up fertility decline and hence the population of India will reach its peak faster and at a lower level,” said IIASA population researcher Samir KC, from Vienna.
The SDGs include 17 goals with 169 different targets, aimed at fighting poverty, reducing inequality, and addressing climate change, while leaving nobody behind.
They include goals such as quality primary and secondary education for all children, gender equality, and reduced child mortality, which all have direct and indirect impacts on population growth.
KC explained when the fertility decline is faster, then the rate of population increase will be slower, and at one point when deaths are more than the births, (assuming net international migration to be zero), the population increase will stop and that will be the peak of the population size in India.
“Therefore, attaining SDGs could contribute in reaching the peak earlier and at lower level than if India follows its own pace,” he said.
The analysis says achieving the SDGs set by the UN in 2015 for the period up to 2030 would lead to a global population of between 8.2 to 8.7 billion by 2100.
Elaborating on the trend in India, KC said since there is an increase in the achievement of higher education, in the future more educated women will enter the reproductive ages and replace less educated women.
“Now, if the SDGs are implemented fully, all women will have at least secondary education (again faster than the current Indian pace) which means under the current condition, the fertility will decline much faster,” he said.
And if one also considers the effect of providing the universal reproductive health services, the two will result in a rapid fertility decline in India and to reach a total fertility rate (TFR) of around 1.7 (or less) in the future, he said.
“Indian fertility is likely to decline even lower than that when we consider urbanisation rate in India. When women migrate (due to any reason) from high fertility region (rural or even urban areas of some states) to low fertility region the TFR is likely to go below 1.7 to 1.5 –1.6. Many villages are becoming urbanised as well,” he noted.
The study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that achieving the SDGs would lead to population growth below even the lower bound of recent UN probabilistic population projections.
The researchers note that achieving the SDGs would also lead to reduced mortality, which would tend to increase population, but that in the longer term, decreased mortality rates also contributes to lower birth rates.