India showing signs of a demographic and societal shift: National Family Health Survey

The fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has confirmed signs of a significant demographic shift in India

Nov 26, 2021
India showing signs of a demographic and societal shift

The fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has confirmed signs of a significant demographic shift in India. For the first time since the NFHS began in 1992, the proportion of women exceeded men: there were 1,020 women for 1,000 men. In the last edition of the survey in 2015-16, there were 991 women for every 1,000 men.

Only the decadal census is considered the official marker of population trends in India. The NFHS surveys are smaller but are seen as a pointer to the future, according to The Hindu. 

India is still poised to be the most populous country in the world with the current projection by the United Nations population division forecasting that India's population will peak around 1.6 to 1.8 billion from 2040-2050. A government report last year projected that India would overtake China as the world’s most populous country around 2031 — almost a decade later than the United Nations projection of 2022.

India’s swing towards a predominately female population is a remarkable moment for a country that for centuries has been one of “missing women”, referring to the millions of girls killed before or just after being born due to a societal stigma to giving birth to a daughter, according to The Guardian newspaper of London that gave prominence to the significance of this survey. It indicates strides are being made in tackling sex-selective abortions, female foeticide and neglect of girls and women, which have deeply impacted on the female population. 

Most States and Union Territories (UTs) recorded more women than men, the NFHS-5 showed. S

A state-wise breakup of the NFHS data also shows that India is on its way to stabilising its population, with most States and UTs having a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of less than two.  A TFR of less than 2.1, or a woman on average bearing two children over a lifetime, suggests that an existing generation of people will be exactly replaced. Anything less than two suggests an eventual decline in population over time, said The Hindu. Again, much like the broader trend towards feminisation, the TFR in all States has improved in the last five years.

Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “It is heartening to see the improvements in the overall sex ratio. It reflects the strides that the country has made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Muttreja, however, emphasised that a full picture of India’s shifting sex ratio would not become clear until the census, which was due to happen in 2021 but currently postponed, was carried out. India’s last census occurred in 2011.

“With greater access to literacy and education, the aspirations of women are fast-changing,” said Muttreja. “Girls are asserting themselves and taking charge of their lives, and will play a critical role in the growth and development of the country in the future.”


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