For the first time, India has a more female population than male, with 1,020 women for every 1000 men. The recent figures by Union Health Ministry suggest India is no longer a country of 'missing women'.

The country is also not getting any younger, and no longer faces the threat of a population explosion. The Union health ministry released the summary findings of the fifth round of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) on November 24, which included these three radical findings.

The National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5), provides data on India's population, health and nutrition for each state and union territory (UT). Whether these figures of NFHS-5 apply to the entire population will only be known with certainty when the next national census is conducted, though many states and Union territories are very likely to do so.

In 1990, when the term 'missing women' was coined by Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen, there were 927 women for every 1,000 men in India. The ratio was 1000:1000 in NFHS-3, which was conducted in 2005-06; it was 991:1000 in NFHS-4, which was conducted in 2015-16. The sex ratio is skewed in favour of women for the first time in any NFHS or Census.

According to Vikas Sheel, additional secretary, Union ministry of health and family welfare and mission director: "The improved sex ratio and sex ratio at birth is also a significant achievement; even though the real picture will emerge from the census, we can say for now that our measures for women empowerment have steered us in the right direction based on the results."

The gender ratio at birth for children born in the last five years is still 929, indicating that son preference in its various haunting forms persists.

However, the sex ratio is a significant milestone achieved as a result of policies aimed at reducing sex selection practises and female infanticide, and the fact that women live longer than men in India.

According to data from the Census of India website, the average life expectancy at birth for men and women in 2010-14 was 66.4 years and 69.6 years, respectively.

Also Read: Indian makes headway in population control but anaemia still an issue, says new health survey

Other findings:

  • The percentage of people under the age of 15 years has decreased from 34.9 percent in 2005-06 to 26.5 percent in 2019-21. India is still a young country, with a median age of 24 years according to Census data in 2011, but it is ageing, which brings policy challenges.

  • "Because we now have an ageing population, our approach to women's health needs to be more holistic than one that focuses solely on reproductive health," said Yamini Aiyar, president of the Centre for Policy Research.

  • "The fact that more women completed ten years of schooling in 2019-20 than in previous years, as well as a drop in female labour force participation, points to significant structural challenges in India's labour market."

  • If India is to progress, these issues must be addressed immediately, says Aiyar.

  • In India, the total fertility rate (TFR), or the average number of children per woman, is now just 2 - below the internationally accepted replacement level fertility rate of 2.1.

  • "There is usually a 30-40 year gap between total fertility rates falling below replacement levels and a decline in the overall population," said Dr KS James, director and senior professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences.

  • "This is because the population that will give birth in the next 10-15 years was already born in the past when fertility levels were higher," he added. "Of course, population growth in southern states will fall faster than the rest of the country," he added.

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