India Is Surpassing China in Population

The United Nations released data this morning confirming that India will soon surpass China as the most populous country. When that happens, it will be the first time in centuries that China does not have the world’s largest population.

The milestone is focusing attention on both India’s potential to become a global power and the significant challenges that it faces. My Times colleagues who are based in India will be writing about the subject frequently this year, and I want to use today’s newsletter to frame these issues.

China’s economic and geopolitical rise over the past few decades has changed the world. If India can use its size — and China’s declining population — to catch up, the world would change again.

The first Apple store

China today is vastly richer than India, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon.

In the late 1970s, India was more affluent (based on the most telling measure, economic output per person). Since then, the two countries have followed very different paths:

What happened after the late 1970s? Under Deng Xiaoping, its ruler at the time, China began to open its economy to market forces and foreign investment. It moved away from the inefficiencies of state-run communism.

But the government did so in a measured way, rather than fully embracing laissez-faire capitalism. China maintained trade protections that helped its companies grow: In exchange for allowing foreign companies to build factories, China restricted those companies’ ability to sell goods in China and required them to share technology with local companies. This mix of market capitalism and government regulation was the same one that other countries — including the United States, long ago — have used to industrialize.

The strategy worked phenomenally well. Hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens moved from poor, rural areas to take factory jobs in cities. The resulting decline in poverty may be the largest in human history.

India was never a communist country, but it did have a weak socialist-style economy in the 1970s suffering the aftereffects of British colonialism. And India was slower to modernize than China, as my colleagues Mujib Mashal and Alex Travelli — both based in Delhi — point out in a new story about the population milestone.

“India started opening its quasi-socialist economy nearly a decade later,” Mujib and Alex write. “Its approach remained piecemeal, constrained by tricky coalition politics and the competing interests of industrialists, unions, farmers and factions across its social spectrum.”

India’s lag allowed China to grab a first-mover advantage. By the 1990s, China’s manufacturing sector was developed enough to be much more efficient than India’s. Even though wages were somewhat lower in India, many foreign companies chose to locate in China.

One factor was the Chinese government’s aggressive investments in roads, airports, rail networks and other infrastructure. Today, transit in China is often more advanced than in the United States. Transportation in India tends to be less convenient.

India’s recent leaders, including Narendra Modi, the current prime minister, have absorbed this lesson and tried to catch up, spending large sums on infrastructure. They have made significant progress even though China remains far ahead, Mujib and Alex explain. “India’s time has arrived,” Modi recently said.

(Related: Apple opened its first retail store in India yesterday.)

India’s gender gap

A second factor is education. China’s population has long been more educated than India’s, with higher literacy rates and larger shares of people completing grade school, high school and college. Education was one of the few economic successes of the brutal Mao Zedong era, from the late 1940s through mid-1970s. And educated people make for more productive workers, in both white-collar and blue-collar jobs, research has shown.

Importantly, the Communist Party’s focus on learning included both girls and boys. India, by contrast, has large gender gaps in literacy and educational attainment.

These gaps contribute to employment gaps between men and women. Only about one-fifth of Indian women work in a formal job. “In terms of education, employment, digital access and various other parameters, girls and women do not have equal access to life-empowering tools and means as the boys and men have,” Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a research group, told The Times. “This needs to change for India to truly reap the demographic dividend.”

The “demographic dividend” is a reference to recent population trends in India: The country’s largest age group is people in the prime of their working lives. China’s population is aging rapidly, because of its longtime one-child policy, and declined last year for the first time since the 1960s (when Mao’s policies caused a famine). The World Bank projects China’s working-age population to fall to 600 million by 2050 and India’s to rise to 800 million.

The demographic dividend gives India a chance to expand both its economy and its global influence. One big question is whether it can do so (as these charts show). A second question is what kind of country it will be.

Indian leaders are proud of their country’s status as the world’s largest democracy, and India’s relations with the United States are better than with China. In the continuing global competition between democracies and autocracies, India could be a key player.

But it’s still not clear exactly which side it will be on. I recommend reading the story by Mujib and Alex, which points out Modi’s continuing crackdown on dissent and embrace of strongman tactics.

For more: China’s shrinking work force could hobble the global economy.


Fox Lawsuit

Fox News agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems over 2020 election misinformation. The network will pay $787 million.

The outcome is a win for Dominion but lets Fox avoid potentially embarrassing testimony from Tucker Carlson Rupert Murdoch and others.

The settlement is an implicit admission of wrongdoing by Fox, a rarity from the powerhouse in Republican politics.

While other news outlets covered the settlement, Fox News hosts barely mentioned it.

Smartmatic, another voting machine company, is still suing Fox, for $2.7 billion, explains Michelle Goldberg of Times Opinion.


Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia, made his first court appearance. He seemed to be in good spirits, smiling at fellow journalists in the courtroom.

Warplanes struck Sudan’s main international airport after a cease-fire unraveled. Here’s how the war started.

China is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal, potentially making it an atomic peer of the United States and Russia.

A hospital fire in Beijing killed at least 29. Officials arrested a dozen people and said construction negligence may have started the blaze.

Mexico uses the powerful spy tool Pegasus against both drug lords and human rights advocates — even after promising to stop.

Other Big Stories

The Supreme Court is expected to decide today whether an abortion pill will remain temporarily available while an appeal moves forward.

The U.S. will spend $1 billion to keep Covid vaccines free for the uninsured when the shots move to the commercial market later this year.

“People come to my door all the time. I don’t shoot them in the head.” Kansas City residents were outraged at the shooting of Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old.

At least three people who carried tiki torches during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 have been indicted.

One woman helped Ron DeSantis rise to political fame before he abruptly banished her. Now she’s helping Donald Trump instead.

A portion of a parking garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan, killing one person.


Bidding farewell to her third and final heart, Amy Silverstein laments the life-threatening side-effects of organ transplants.

Why are we so lonely? On “The Ezra Klein Show,” the writer Sheila Liming explores why we struggle to create community.


The blobs: Giant masses of seaweed are headed for Florida. This map shows where they are.

Kids on planes: Who cleans up their mess, parents or airline workers? Twitter is fighting over it, The Washington Post reports.

Netflix: The company is ending its DVD-by-mail business, after more than 5.2 billion rentals.

Nap dress: The elevated nightgown won devoted fans during the pandemic. Now it comes in bridal styles.

Advice from Wirecutter: Cheap(ish) ways to make your clothes look better and last longer.

Lives Lived: Freddie Scappaticci led the internal security unit of the insurgent Irish Republican Army, though many believed him to be “Stakeknife” — the code name of a high-ranking British mole. He died at an unknown age.


Damar Hamlin: The Buffalo Bills safety who collapsed during a game was cleared to return to practice.

Suspension: Draymond Green will miss Game 3 of the Warriors-Kings series, a loss for the defending champs, who are already down 0-2.

Cruising: The New York Rangers won their playoff opener last night 5-1 over New Jersey.


New York’s best restaurants

These are the 100 best restaurants in New York City, as assembled by Pete Wells over a dozen years as a Times restaurant critic.

The list includes fine dining mainstays like Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges. There are buzzy newcomers, including Semma and Zaab Zaab. And there are places where great food can be found for cheap: Tacos El Borrego in Queens, Hop Lee in Chinatown, Falafel Tanami in Brooklyn.


What to Cook

This is the easiest chicken noodle soup.

What to Listen to

Is Danish pop the next K-pop? Tobias Rahim, a phenomenon in Denmark, wants the country’s music to be internationally famous.

Late Night

“I want my trial!” Stephen Colbert joked about the Fox settlement.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were eminently and imminently. Here are today’s puzzle and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: With 5-Across, utterly exhausted (nine letters).

And here’s today’s Wordle.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. On this day in 1897, J.J. McDermott won the first Boston Marathon in 2:55:10 — a time good enough for roughly 2,700th place this year.

Here’s today’s front page.

“The Daily” is about the abortion pill.

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