India is on track to surpass China by mid-2023 as the world’s most populous nation, United Nations data said Wednesday.
This has raised questions about whether a booming, young Indian population will fuel economic growth for years to come.
While India’s 254 million people between ages 15 and 24 is the largest number in the world, China is struggling with an aging population and stagnant population growth.
That has sparked expectations that the demographic changes could pave the way for India to become an economic and global heavyweight.
“By the end of this month, India’s population is expected to reach 1,425,775,850 people, matching and then surpassing the population of mainland China,” the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in a statement on Monday.
Last week, the UN’s annual State of World Population report said the milestone would come by midyear 2,023 when it will have 2.9 million people more than China.
The Indian government, which has not done a census since 2011 and delayed the 2021 one due to the pandemic, has not officially commented on the UN estimates.
The timing of when India surpasses China in population will likely be revised once India conducts its next census, John Wilmoth, director of the UN population division, said at a news conference at UN headquarters in New York City.
“The precise timing of this crossover isn’t known, and it will never be known,” Wilmoth said. “There is uncertainty in the data.”
India and China are neighbours and have a complicated relationship, including robust trade ties and a long-running border dispute. The United States and its allies increasingly see India, the world’s largest democracy, as a counterweight to China.
But their interests do not always align. India, unlike much of the West, has refrained from condemning its Cold War ally Russia over its war in Ukraine, instead adopting a neutral stance even as India’s purchases of Russian crude have soared.
The population milestone raises questions about whether India can repeat the economic success that has made China central to the world’s economy and a leading global power.
The news comes at a moment when India is promoting itself as a rising international player as the host of this year’s Group of 20 summit. It is also becoming a more attractive destination for multinational companies seeking to reduce their reliance on China.
Observers say India’s sheer size and its young population give it the potential to replicate China’s economic trajectory.
Young workers who flooded into China’s cities to take factory jobs starting in the 1990s were an essential ingredient in the boom that saw China become the world’s second-largest economy.