Youth Bulge In India: Demographic Advantage Or Burden?

Posted on July 22, 2011

By Ankita Rastogi:


In the plethora of demand and supply interactions in the Indian markets since the last one and a half year, finally the cost of the book is determined. While lauding the efforts of the Indian ministers it may be recalled that around 40% of the population lies below the poverty line, with money only enough to subsist. Today, India is in the throws of demographic transition, as a consequence of which India shall boast ownership to the largest youth workforce in the world by 2020.But is our economy ready to harness a force so great? Is it ready to avail of the demographic dividend that is an offshoot of demographic transition?

Our nation that is proud of its multiplicity needs to glance at the stark disparity between inclusive growth that it aims at and the levels of unbridled inflation it has achieved. Perhaps then we shall not be as proud of our contrasts as we are. Inflation, a sustained rise in prices of commodities over a long period of time, has remained around 9% throughout the year. Notably food inflation, according to the WPI (Wholesale Price Index), is over 20% compared with June 2010 and inflation in primary commodities stood at 11.84% in the past week. With such exorbitant rates of fuel and food, inflation, a tax on the poor, has exacerbated poverty and illiteracy in the nation.


How can the poor who cannot afford food and lodging consider education? Besides, rise in prices has also led to increase in the rates of child labour in the nation; these children shall be a part of the workforce in 2020; how does the Government intend to use these uneducated and unskilled workers? Even if the Government steps up employment guarantee schemes, even then there is a limit to which the nation can absorb labour into the unorganized sector lest growth be hampered.

To intensify organized sector employment, the government needs to step up education and employability of students. But the government seems to be focusing on totally different aspects of education. Where 21.6% of Indians are deprived of education at all, the Government seems to be preoccupied with the imposition of the semester system in the Delhi University or making tenth level CBSE examinations optional for children. Demographic dividend is an opportunity of accelerated growth relative to other economies. It can serve as the launch pad of the Indian economy just as it did for the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) in the 1990s. These regions were the first newly-industrialized regions, noted for maintaining exceptionally high growth rates and rapid industrialization between the early 1960s and 1990s which coincided with their demographic transitions. By the 21st century, all four regions have since graduated into advanced economies and high-income economies.

However, if this does not happen then not only would the nation fail to benefit from the dividend but it shall also become home to the largest number of frustrated youth. Instead of development there shall be unprecedented human capital flight. This would be an anti-climax in the truest sense of the term. India’s growth will remain stagnant, if not deteriorate, at a time when brain-drain from India shall spur other economies of the world. As is said by Shakespeare, as if appropriately for the state of the Indian economy today, “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Indians are recognized as one of the most hardworking people in the world and since independence through our capability alone, we have built substantial access to the resources of the world information and technological know-how. There has been undeniable improvement in education and the outreach of secondary education has increased through correspondence courses, but a lot more is required. India needs to bring about a change that will benefit the students and synergize learning, not impose changes that students and teachers alike criticize (for instance, the reservation and the semester system) The imperative question remains why are changes being imposed on already efficiently functioning frameworks instead of planning and making policies to educate the thousands deprived of any education at all?


The annual budget 2011 talks about harnessing the demographic dividend through inclusive growth. FM Pranab Mukherjee raised fuel prices by Rs.50 in a go, instead. He seems to be blissfully oblivious of the fact that the average income of a rural Indian is Rs.14.3 per day, which means only the hike, is covered by the proceeds earned in 3 days! If government actions continue to segregate the population into richer and poorer people by the day, we are soon approaching a Marxist struggle rather than a prosperous united India. The Government is missing its target by miles and though the reasons might lie beyond the purview of the topic, it cannot be denied the Government is losing touch with ground realities. The interface between the citizen and the Government is tantamount to a democratic state; the Government cannot overlook to reset its priorities for the nation. Though the Indian education system changes starkly resemble Chinese oppressive rule, it is noteworthy that the socio-political backgrounds of the two nations is significantly diverse. Indiscrete aping of the west or the east will do India no good. India needs to fix its focus or the Indian growth story may go awry.

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