As India ascends to fulfill its aspiration of establishing itself as a dominant world power, it has achieved yet another notable distinction - it now reigns as the most populous country on the globe. As per data released by the United Nations on Wednesday, India has surpassed China, triumphantly claiming its status as the world's most populous nation. India's population has now surmounted a staggering 1.428 billion, marginally eclipsing China's tally of 1.425 billion, as reported by Bloomberg.
India is a country on the rise. The world has taken notice of India's growth, with an estimated 65% of Indians being under 35 years old, India boasts the largest number of millennials and GenZ on the planet.
Population : Opportunity or Disaster?
As per a recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund, a quarter of India's populace falls within the age category of 0-14 years, whilst 18 percent belongs to the 10 to 19 age bracket. Additionally, 26 percent of the population is aged between 10 to 24 years, with 68 percent comprising individuals aged between 15 to 64 years. Only 7 percent of the population falls above the age of 65 years.
While other countries, such as China, face aging populations and shrinking workforces, India's demographics indicate that it has a significant, dynamic, and imaginative youth population. However, the quintessential question that arises is, is this youth demographic a promising opportunity or a catastrophic disaster for the Indian economy?
Unemployment- the biggest challenge
Challenges abound for young Indians, with the most significant challenge being employment opportunities. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the unemployment rate in India rose from 4.9% in 2018 to 7.5% in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic worsening matters. Lack of employment and low-paying jobs leave young graduates in poverty and increase the rich-poor inequality gap, which agitates younger demographics and creates social unrest.
The frenzied pursuit of opportunities amongst Indian youth is starkly illustrated by the nearly 6.5 lakh applicants competing for a mere 700 prestigious civil services positions within the country annually, or the hundreds of thousands of young individuals fiercely contending for a limited number of low-level employment opportunities at the Indian Railways.
India's current government, led by Prime Minister Modi, has taken multiple steps to tackle unemployment and promote economic growth. The creation of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship is one such example that invests in skill development and funding opportunities for individuals and businesses. Additionally, flagship schemes like Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) provide loans to small and micro-enterprises, which helps them to establish, expand, or upgrade their businesses. Another scheme, Stand Up India, targets women and SC/ST entrepreneurs with financial assistance and support.
The Indian government's measures not only promote entrepreneurship and small businesses but also invokes foreign investments into the country. Not to mention, infrastructure expansion and increased investments in the country have facilitated the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurship at large.
Raising educational standards
Education is another critical challenge faced by young Indians, with disparities in quality and quantity between rural and urban areas and varying socioeconomic categories. According to a recent report from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), only about 59.5% of young Indians are literate, which hinders the country's economic growth and development due to a lack of skilled workers.
A recent report by Bloomberg highlighted the issue of "worthless degrees" and how they have led to the emergence of an unemployable generation in India. The education industry in the country, valued at $117 billion, is flourishing, with a proliferation of new colleges at an unprecedented rate. Despite this, numerous young Indians are graduating with insufficient or non-existent skills, thereby negatively impacting the economy at a critical stage of development. Reports and surveys conducted over the past few years indicate that the majority of engineering colleges in India possess outdated curriculums and churn out graduates who possess no practical value to the industry.
To address this issue, the current government is actively taking various measures such as expanding existing schools, colleges, and universities, improving teacher training, and constructing holistic curricula. Moreover, over the last few years, 150 new universities and over 1,570 colleges have been set up in India. The government has approved seven more IITs and seven more IIMs to enhance higher education opportunities. The National Education Policy (NEP), updated in 2020 after almost three decades, aims to increase enrolment and reduce dropout rates, promote equitable access to education, enhance teacher training and assessment, and encourage innovation in education.
Poor labor force participation
India faces another significant impediment stemming from its immense population - poor labor force participation, particularly among women. As per data from 2021, India's female labor force participation rate stagnates at a mere 19%, which falls below the global average of 25.1% while steadily declining over the years. In response to this issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's objective is to achieve a 50% female workforce participation rate by the year 2047.
Despite India's youthful population presenting a promising opportunity for significant economic growth and development, it comes with its own set of challenges. Unemployment, poverty, and an expanding gap between the rich and poor all contribute to social unrest if not addressed adequately. India's government and society must work hand-in-hand to ensure equitable access to resources and education, reduce unemployment, enhance skill development opportunities, and create a conducive business environment.
To conclude, India's young population presents an opportunity for the country to unlock significant economic benefits, provided that the government and society address the related challenges effectively. Alleviating social, political, and economic concerns to promote an inclusive and sustainable future will lead the country towards the path of prosperity.
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