During his recent speech at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York (yes, the name is written twice!), India’s Prime Minister spoke about India becoming a major source of labour for the rest of the world.

He said this in the context of the youth of India’s population, i.e., India has a large population of young people who can become part of the work force. Efforts to provide employment opportunities for this large population requires a lot of other things to be planned – e.g.: opening up more industries of many types (not just software), planning to revise and upgrade the education s

ystem at every level to equip our youth for the jobs that need to be done, negotiating fair and equitable agreements with other countries to become our trading partners, and so on.

All this is based on the information that the Census of India has gathered.

It is vital to know how many people there are in various age groups in a population. These are usually classified into economically dependent groups (usually age group 0-14 years, and 60 years and above) and the economically productive group, i.e., the employed, working group age group 15-59 years. I will return to this point a little later.

But first, a look at the pyramid connection. The age groups and the percentage of males and females in each age group is often shown in the form of a population pyramid (also called age-sex pyramid). Here is an example, the population pyramid of China. The age groups are shown on the vertical axis. The percentage of the population in each age group is shown for males and females on the horizontal axis. (Sometimes, the actual numbers may be shown in millions.) (Clicking on this image should open a larger version in a new tab/window)


 Population changes are often described using the demographic transition model. This model is widely used although, like most models, it is by no means perfect. Consider the picture here. (Clicking on this image should open a larger version in a new tab/window)



Notice the connection between the four types shown and the proportions of the young population as opposed to the elderly population. You can see why each type of population has that pyramid structure.

Here is a picture of data from the Census of India 2010 that you can use to construct your own population pyramid for India (ask your teacher to help or download and print the sheet on which you can create it — it is a PDF file) (Clicking on this image should open a larger version in a new tab/window)


Earners and non-earners?

Earlier, I mentioned the labels of “economically dependent” and “economically productive” to the various age groups. This is somewhat misleading. Here are a few reasons: Child labour is widespread in India. These children actually are economically productive. This is a huge and very complex issue. Its root cause seems to be poverty. Observe in your own neighborhood (may be even in your own home!) and see how many children are working for a living. Ask yourself why these youngsters should be working for a living and not going to school. You will likely find that the answers are not simple. For example, they may be working to support their families, they may be forced to work even though they would rather go to school, their families may not be able to afford to send them to school. Some children may be going to school but working at other times of the day. Is there something you can do about this in your immediate surrounding?

You will also find that a lot of older people do not have any income to support them in old age. They may continue to work past the age where the label “economically dependent” is still wrongly applied to them. Perhaps their pension, or other savings-based incomes are not enough to live on. Prices are going up but their income is fixed. This leads to economic difficulty, may be even poverty. So, many of the so-called “elderly dependent” population may not be dependent at all. Or they may only be partially dependent. Again, look around in your own immediate environment and see if there any such elderly people.

When we see data and when we see labels, we should not accept them at face value. There are many subtle points that we need to consider in understanding the data. Adopting this outlook will help you become more aware of what data mean.

(A few days before this article was published, Sri Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights’ activist and founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 2014 along with Kum. Malala Yousafzai. He firmly believes that children should be in school and not working. He has worked hard for decades to help children get out of the labour market and into school.)

Things you can do:

  1. Using the data given for India’s census 2010, construct three separate population pyramids (total, rural, and urban). What observations can you make about each of the population structures? E.g.: Does the urban population have a younger population or does the rural population? Comparing the urban and rural population pyramids, which one has a larger number of girls in the 0-14 years age group? If you were in charge of planning education throughout India, how could you use the answers to such questions to make your policy decisions?
  2. How does India’s population pyramid that you made compare with the one at the UN population site?  Consider the sources of the data and decide which one you would prefer to use.
  3. Check out the online interactive population pyramids for various countries here. Compare them and make observations about the nature of the populations: more youthful or more elderly; more females or males in different age groups; is the country considered “developed” or “developing”, and so on.
  4. Consider the population pyramids you see at this site and try to classify them according to the four stages shown in in this article. (Keep in mind that these classifications are not 100% accurate always.)
  5. Watch the moving population pyramids of China and USA. Notice the changes that have occurred and are expected to occur. What do you find?

Share your answers, thoughts, etc. in the comments box below this article.

(A version of this article was published in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 9 October 2014.)

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