July 11 is commemorated as the world population day since the earth attained a capacity of five billion in 1987. In the next three-and-a-half decades, three billion more have been added taking the total population to eight billion.
This growing population has often raised the concern regarding the earth’s carrying capacity and its optimal quotient. However, the real concern that is apparent from verification of two centuries of population distribution around the world is the rising imbalance of population and resources.
A recent work by Chancel and Piketty on two centuries of global inequality is revealing on this front as income shares are more than double of population shares in certain world regions as against other populated regions represented by eight countries of the world sharing half of the world population. Among these eight countries the two distinctly populous ones will be China and India with India set to exceed China in the year 2023. Besides these two population giants representing nearly one-third of the world population would perhaps be the land of human resource not only in count but also in capabilities to serve the global need of human labour.
With the pressing anxiety of population stabilization, the world population prospects does offer optimism on various counts in the sense that 61 world nations have shown a negative population growth and two-thirds of the global population is in a low fertility environment.
Another dimension of population growth that is reassuring relates to the significant share of population growth owing to the momentum rather than the component of natural increase. Momentum of population does not go against the realization of population stabilization rather than its postponement to a later point in time.
This optimism on the global population stabilization should not be celebrated as an isolated eventuality as this is accompanied with many other transformations in the familial and household domain which need not be overlooked. One of the vital recognition of this particular aspect relates to the changing household compositions and its varied implications.
To cite a few, households in India in particular have a disproportionate distribution of children and elderly within them which might get overlooked with the imagination of their share in the population which is ought to rise/decline in response to fertility decline and gains in longevity. However, the distributional statistics of children seem to convey the opposite in the sense that with a shrinking share of children in the population less than quarter of rich most households have children as against the same being more than seventy percent in poor-most households. Such an imbalance has a direct bearing on equality in child well-being.
How to account for elderly presence
Similar pattern holds true for distribution of elderly in households that is disproportionate in relation to the co-residence pattern when a larger share of elderly live with elderly and adult co-residence with elderly is less frequent.
The aging derivative of the world population prospects indicate a rising share of elderly population which is intensifying faster when read as a share in the population. But one wonders as to whether this trend of imagining a persistent rise in share of a segment of population based on a normative cut-off age is sensible or there should be a dynamic approach to defining old age that accounts for longevity and many other characteristic attributes of age related adversity that keep changing for the better. Apart from counting elderly population, there is also need to value their ideal distribution within households with the potential support mechanism for them rather than a conventional support-ration i.e. otherwise computed as an indicator of reading changing age-dynamic of the population.
Another pertinent dimension of population prospect has been the gained human longevity that amounts to nine years in a period of three decades but this achievement has its own share of regional and characteristic disparity. While such gains have been larger in wealthier regions of the world, they are relatively smaller in poorer regions. The characteristic divide in longevity whether it be poor-rich divide or other capability endowment divide, poses a fundamental limitation in reading population based adversity indicators.
Any indicator of adversity in forms of deprivation may well be conditioned by the fundamental characteristics like wealth, education and many other similar endowments. However a temporal inspection of such indicator with a population base could very well be fallacious given that the denominator population will have a disproportionate count of population with adversity. This aspect is very clear if one examines the poor-rich divide in life expectancy leading to more of the rich counted in the population as against the poor and any adversity indicator thus computed will be misleading.
Skewed distribution of resources
Final contention in reading population prospect relates to disproportionateness in share of population and resources across world regions. Besides the apparent imbalance in concentration of income in least populated regions there is also a concern regarding seamless mobility of capital and not the labour.
In fact, capital appreciates in labour surplus regions but restricting labour mobility with immigration policies will serve contrary to attaining any balance in human resource and the capital. On this count a very detailed inspection of two centuries of global inequality is made to suggest empirical evidence as to human resource rich regions are largely less developed and human resource deficient ones are developed. While inter-country and intra-country inequality are equally prevalent, there seems to be no systematic effort at arresting such inequalities which at the least needs measures to discourage accumulation by the rich on one hand and equalize intangible capability endowments on the other.
Given that there is a lot of pessimism on account of sustaining a rising population of this planet from varied counts like depletion of natural resources, ecological balance and many others, the rising inequality does not appear to be a concern that needs redressal. Therefore, an essential reminder is that nothing is sustainable that is not equitable.
(Udaya S Mishra is Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai & Basant K Panda is Technical Specialist, Population Council Consulting, New Delhi.)