Should India be filling West’s demographic gap?

Facing a severe demographic deficit, the Western countries may offer various incentives to the youth from countries such as India that have a vast, young population. If this trend is to be reversed, India must ensure better living conditions for its Generation Next through high quality infrastructure, especially education and health-care, and a corruption-free administration.

Starting from the 1960s a significant number of Indians have migrated to the US. This was accelerated during the 1990s due to the information technology boom. The majority of those headed to the US were students to pursue higher education and perhaps settle down thereafter in well-paying jobs, contributing significantly to the growth of that country.

There have been debates about this issue, centering on the brain- drain issue. But the fascinating aspect of it has not been appreciated by the experts in either country that is,the declining fertility rate in the West and the need to have a substantial trained and skilled workforce. The demand for the best and brightest from countries such as India will increase in direct proportion to the decline in fertility and reproductive rates in the Western countries.

Demographic Profile

Let us look at the possible demographic profile of Europe and the US in the next few decades, as projected by the UN. The average total fertility rate in 2000 in the developed countries was 1.57 and in developing nations 3.05. The rate for Europe was 1.4 and Japan 1.3. For the US it was 2.1, India 3.1 and China 1.72. The appropriate replacement rate is thought to be 2.1, accounting for some infant mortality.

Over the next decade, the situation could worsen. Estimates suggest that in the next 50 years, the US will grow by 100 million in terms of population numbers while Europe will have as many less.

For instance, in another 40 years, the German population would be less by nearly 30 per cent. One-third of the population will be aged over 65 and will outnumber children by two to one. Italy’s fertility rate is 1.2, and in that Catholic country in another 40 years more than 40 per cent of the population will be aged above 65. In Russia, two out of three pregnancies are terminated before birth; Russian women average 2.5-4 abortions each, and the country’s death rate is, unbelievably, 70 per cent more than the birth rate. The Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin, has warned that in 15 years there will be 22 million fewer Russians, that is, a seventh of its current population will not be there. Japan is already facing the age crisis. England is readying for an “ethnic majority” in a decade. One can go on.

The growth in the population of the aged in the developed countries and the increasing demand for fewer working hours, including among the white-collar employees, presage a catastrophe. The Table gives the world population distribution over the years and Europe’s has declined dramatically from 1950 while that of North America has also dropped, though not as precipitously.

Changing Milieu

The demographic implications are obvious, and this is perhaps why the US kept an open house since the 1960s for bright students. In the case of Europe, there has been a phenomenal influx of labour, both blue and brown collar, as also legal and illegal, mainly from Africa.

As Japan encourages neither other nationals becoming its citizens nor “guest workers,” it has been trying to find technological solutions to its the problem of its ageing population and the shortage of brown collar workers. For instance, some Japanese companies are trying to build a robot that can be operated from virtually anywhere. This robot, which can clean floors, walls, sofas, cupboards, etc, can take outsourcing to a different plane. Japanese home-owners merely have to assign the work to a “Cleaning Centre” that will do the work to a set schedule when the occupants are not there.

Equation Can Change

The significantly changing demographic profile of the Western countries is going to alter the nature and complexion of brain-drain from countries such as India.

With the West (as also Japan) unlikely to be able to change the demographic profile, it would be advantage countries like India that have a vast pool of talented youth that can fill the gap elsewhere.The Western countries merely have to pretend that these youngsters are not wanted and make the entry comparatively difficult through quotas and numbers so that the queues swell before the consulates.

But the flip-side to this story is that the queues will thin the moment the youngsters begin to feel that, based on purchasing power parity, it is more advantageous to work and live in Chennai or Mumbai rather than San Jose or London.

At this point, the Western countries will begin to feel the pressure as they will not be able to change the demographic equation overnight. They would have to encourage massive inflows of people or just fall off the map of the world as a large aged population (inverted pyramid type demographic structure) would become a double whammy the social security system may not be able to care for this swelling section and there will be a severe shortage of labour to carry out the most mundane activity.

So, not too far in the future, there will be a rush by the developed countries of the West to offer various incentives to attract the youth from countries such as India.

Can India reverse this trend? New Delhi must ensure that there are no disincentives to being in India. For this it must address two key aspects ensure availability of infrastructure and reduce rent-seeking by the officialdom.

If the endless waiting for telephone connections, gas cylinders and two-wheelers is a thing of the past, why should good roads, uninterrupted electricity and running water be problems?

No sooner the country demonstrates that living in India has tremendous advantageous in terms of education, health-care and so on, besides the rich and varied culture, arts, etc., than the lure of the West will begin to wane.

This may be the better approach to reversing the brain-drain than harping on issues of patriotism or local issues that may hold little meaning for today’s youth which, besides lucre, is looking for rule of law, a corruption-free milieu and equality of treatment based on merit rather than other considerations.

All this will be the antidote to human poaching by the West that could be facing such a demographic deficit that it may not hesitate to lure even the not-so-bright.

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One comment

  1. SB Puri · · Reply

    Won’t happen till reservations & minority appeasement are stopped.

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