Being humans, curiosity is all but natural to us. We’re especially curious about people. People who look similar to us, people who look different than us, and people who wear funny hats. Those are the most intriguing. We gossip, we chant, we cheer and we praise. We’re constantly entering and exiting tribes, reevaluating allies and hierarchies. At some level, we consider India to be a tribe, which is why we function together (almost, tch). We increasingly rely on social media and the news to tell us what someone who’s thousands of kilometers away, yet belongs to our tribe, is thinking. This is vitally important to make sense of everything happening around us. The media (Whatsapp messages, Republic news, etc) can often be very misleading. Really, I understand your shock. Leaders with low approval ratings get elected, movies that unleash religious outrage go on to break box-office records (Ha!), movies that treat women like crap also go on to make a lot of money (Hmm, wut?), videos go viral, restaurants go broke and twitter is always angry. Who are these people? Who is an Indian? This is an effort to answer where and how we exist, as a population. The next time you see a report about “Middle Aged Indians wanting X”, or notice the 'national' media not reporting on floods in the North East, you know how many people they are, or aren't talking about. This is chapter one : Geography, Age and Sex.
TL;DR [Highlights of this story]
- All Indians are equal. Some more equal than others.
- Case of the missing women.
- Scaling population mountains.
- Age is just a number. Sigh.
- If India was 100 people.
India does have a lot of people. Around 1.33 Billion of them, actually, only second to China’s
Billion. Nearly 1 in every 6 humans is Indian. This number has been increasing for a while now,
nearly doubling over a 30 year period. While this looks like cause for concern, look at the blue
dotted line. That’s the number of births per woman; it’s dropped from ~6 in 1960 to ~2.3 in
The replacement rate for any population is said to be ~2.1 accounting for premature deaths. What
this means is that, if the births per woman drops further to ~2-2.1, Indian population will
stabilize. We’ll see shortly that many states in India have already hit the 2 mark and dropped
But clearly the population is not distributed uniformly across the country. It is useful to look at population, population density and fertility rate to get an idea of the population distribution, the packing and growth.
From first glance, it is clear that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra have high populations. This alone, however, is insufficient information to conclude if it's a problem given how areas of different states vary (~3000 sq. KM of Goa to ~3,00,000 sq. KM of Rajasthan). So, a more insightful metric is population density which is led by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala. But the most forward-looking metric is fertility rate. We already know that populations where this is ~2 stabilize, and grows exponentially when it is higher. Fun fact : Kerala has a very low fertility rate, and a high density. Guess away, what happened there.
All Indians are equal. Some more equal than others.
We do have to care about India as a whole, and world as a whole too, for good measure. But central planning has its limits. We entrust people to be able to solve their own problems. Also, slicing and dicing often yields better results in terms of identifying root causes and effective implementation of policies. What would you say if I told you that a citizen in one state has a grossly different "voting value" and effective government spending? That would be crazy, right? Yep. It would also be true.
The center divides revenue to states considering a bunch of complex parameters such as fiscal discipline, fiscal capacity, land area, ongoing crises, etc. Though this formula has been tweaked by the then Planning Commission and now Niti Aayog, repeatedly, the broad principles remain the same. Population remains a significant factor in determining revenue share. States must receive money proportional to the number of people they govern. Here's the catch. The population considered for this is the population of 1971. The distribution then was remarkably different from the distribution now. Uttar Pradesh has grown by ~2.5x where as Kerala has grown by ~1.6x. So, states that have managed to bring about effective family planning have more money to spend per citizen, with all other things accounted for.
The guiding principle for dividing regions into Parliamentary Constituencies is to ensure an equal voice for each citizen in the parliament. Each State is given a fixed number of seats. The Lok Sabha constituencies' boundaries in each state are redrawn by the Boundary Delimitation Commission of India every decade based on the Indian census, to ensure that there are more or less equal number of people per constituency. However, reevaluating the number of seats per state was suspended in 1976 following a constitutional amendment to incentivise the family planning programme. So given widely varied growth rates, a citizen in Bihar has "less of a vote" than a citizen in Orissa.
The path to fix this discrepancy, however, is riddled with difficult questions. Do we start from zero again? Wouldn't that punish states that spent heavily on family planning, and reward states that didn't the mission seriously enough? Is maintaining 'carrot and stick' mechanism more important than addressing actual suffering in poorer states? How to solve world peace? :(
Case of the Missing Women
[Edit : This article was trending on the homepage of hackernews on the week of its release. One of the criticisms was about the tone of this section, especially because it might seem like I'm indicating that women 'owe it' to men to marry them. I completely understand this criticism and my intention couldn't be further from it. My motivation was to highlight the effect skewed sex-ratios have on the population, as an aggregate. I abhor the thought of men acting entitled to women, and women being treated as possessions. I simply wanted to highlight the impact of sex-selection that is already being felt in countries such as China where 'family life' is taught to be a 'truth' that every human must go through. I apologise if I have offended anyone's sensibilities and shall strive to do better. :) ]
We all remember reading about the evils of female foeticide and infanticide in our school social
studies text books. What happened to that? Have we solved that issue and is there an way to
quantify the harm? The first number that jumps at us is the sex ratio of a country. India has
~8% more males than females with a sexratio of 926 females for every 1000 males. Given probability at
birth is nearly 50%, we expect the sexratio to be 1 female per male. Sexratio of Indian States
varies between 879 of Haryana and 1084 of Kerala. The visualization above indicates number of women per 100 men, in each state. Apart from a few states, most have sexratios
above 900. Yay, we've hit 90%! Woohoo. Isn't this good? Unfortunately not.
When we look at percentages, we often forget that the actual number of people is millions multiplied by that percentage. A more intuitive number is to calculate additional males, overall. Each circle below represents 100k "extra males".
We currently have around 35 Mil 'extra men'. This number is staggering. India is a country where
marriage is an obvious way of life (I'm discounting LGBTQ marriages in the event they become
legal, as it most likely won't have much of an effect on the proportions, although it'll bring down absolute numbers). By Indian
culture standards, growing a family is an essential piece of an individual's life. This crisis is already
playing out in several parts of China. Chinese men actively
seek out partners from other countries, often saving up large sums of money for this
Also interestingly, studies show that the proportion of marriageable women does not remain constant, even if sex-ratio is constant. Older men save up and end up marrying younger women eroding the next generation's pool of women. So, the deficit keeps growing far into the future. There is active research into the societal implications of millions of 'barren' men in a population. Though the findings are not universally accepted, there is evidence to believe that there will be perceptible increase in crime and violence. Imagine millions of men, with barely enough jobs and no conceivable prospect of marriage or family, the one thing they know to be central to the Indian way of life. I hope you look slightly worried. Kerala to the rescue ❤️?
Scaling Population Mountains
Pro Tip : Pinch for zoom, hold Shift and scroll for changing pitch, and yaw of the 3d map. And as usual, hover!
This is the registered electors data of 2019 general elections, and is meant to be relative/indicative only. You can observe that population of most constituencies in a state are more or less equal, however the population of states themselves, vary widely. The density plot highlights urban clusters of India - Delhi (NCR), Mumbai-Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. These regions are very densely populated and are administratively very different from their low-density counterparts. The distance-from-state-capital didn;tt turn out to be particularly insightful. But looks pretty nonetheless :)
Rural Vs Urban
One interesting indicator of development is the percentage of population in urban regions vs rural regions. In urban regions, economies of scale begin aiding service-distribution. Urban areas are also the hubs of trade, manufacturing and are bustling with economic activity. We observe that north-west and south-west states have a higher proportion of urban population compared with the rest of the nation. The total national urban population is around ~30%, compared to nearly 59% in China. This is vital in addressing India's unemployment and quality primary education woes.
Age is just a number. Sigh.
The average Indian is 27 years old (median is around 25). Ah, to be young and foolish. That must be it, right? The above plot is the distribution of age for rural and urban, male and female populations. Notice that states with high fertility rates have a nearly exponentially decreasing curve, whereas the others have a more plateaued region before the drop.
If India was a 100 people
For the final plot, I wanted to drive home the intuition of population percentages w.r.t states. I may visit you when you're asleep to ask this, you know. 👻
Hopefully by now you have a fair understanding of where "India resides". Gender is always tricky
to deal with. There's not enough data to map out transgender folks, apologies for that. Also I may have used male-female interchangably with men-women, again because the data doesn't really differentiate. The
issue of representative equality (and possibly economic equality) will come up for review in
2026. The impact of missing women is already upon us. The first step in solving these issues is
looking at them. Over snacks and pretty graphs, of course :)
Do shoot your thoughts and criticisms at me! And stay tuned for Chapter 2! Taaata!