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Impact of India’s demographic journey on Women’s Lives

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Role of Women and Women’s Organization


Source: TH

 Context: World Population Day (July 11) is a time to look at how India’s demographic journey has changed the lives of its citizens, particularly its women.


India’s population:

  • It grew from about 340 million at Independence to 4 billion.
  • This growth was fuelled by the improvement in public health, food security, etc. For example, male life expectancy was about 56 years (in 1941); today, it is 69 years.
  • With this rapid decline in mortality, parents no longer needed to have four children to ensure that at least two would survive.
  • As a result, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) fell from 5.7 in 1950 to 2.1 in 2019.


Impact of reduced TFR:

  • It brought a tectonic shift in the lives of Indian women.
  • Women’s childhood, adulthood, and old age have been transformed (both positively and negatively) over the course of the demographic transition.


Change for Indian women:

ChildhoodAdulthoodOld age
Sex-selective abortions have declined – girl-survival rate improvedCreating space for education: With a fertility decline, active mothering occupies a smaller proportion of women’s lives.



Lower female labour force participation: By the time peak childcare demands end, they have missed the window for occupations that require specific skills; only unskilled work is open to them.

Women generally marry men who are older and are more likely to outlive their husbands.



The 2011 Census shows that while only 18% of men above age 65 are widowed, about 55% of the women are widowed.



For widowed women, the lack of access to savings and property results in dependence on children, mainly sons, bringing the vicious cycle of son preference to full circle.

Way ahead:

  • Women need to establish secure connections to the labour market and gain work experience if they are to get skilled jobs.
  • Enhancing women’s access to employment and assets will reduce their reliance on sons and could break the vicious cycle of gendered disadvantage.
  • As early marriage and childbearing remain central to Indian women’s lives, any efforts at improving women’s labour force participation must be accompanied by access to safe and affordable childcare.


How to ensure access to safe and affordable childcare?

  • National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) can be used to develop social infrastructure where NREGS workers can help staff crèches.
  • The burgeoning self-help group movement can be harnessed to set up neighbourhood child-care centres in urban and rural areas.


Best practice: Crèche facilities in Anganwadis in MP led to an increase in the work participation of mothers.

Conclusion: Demographic dividends cannot be realised without fully harnessing the gender dividend. As changing patriarchal norms may take a long time, improving access to childcare (for working women) is a low-hanging fruit.


Insta Links:

Insufficient Representation of Women in India’s Workforce


Mains Links:

 What are the continued challenges for women in India against time and space? (UPSC 2019)