Although it's been widely reported that India will overtake China as the world's most populous country at some point this year, what has received less attention are the divergent trends in fertility rates within India: the birth rate in northern India is nearly twice that of southern India. In southern India, the total fertility rate is 1.8 children per woman, on a par with the U.S. and most of Europe. In northern India, the total fertility rate is about 3 children per woman, on a par with Namibia and Libya, among other countries. "Not only are southern [Indian] states providing women better access to contraceptives and family planning services, experts say, but they’re also affording women better educations, more jobs and higher relative social status — crucial, intangible factors that have led to smaller family sizes and greater prosperity. 'Demographically, we have two Indias,' said Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s chief economic adviser between 2014 and 2018. 'The India of the south already resembles East Asia. It’s actually in the early stages of aging. But the Hindi heartland is still very much booming.' ... The north-south gap in birthrates and overall development is stirring frequent debates about how to apportion federal spending and how to allocate seats in Parliament. It’s also sparked efforts by government leaders and development experts to provide enough jobs to the poor, northern states — and lift up women like Malika [a woman profiled in the story from the northern state of Bihar], who are left behind even as India’s surging economy looks destined to overtake Germany’s later this decade. ... According to the 2021 national family survey, 84 percent of Tamil Nadu women are now literate, compared with 55 percent in Bihar, the lowest in India. Forty-six percent of married women in Tamil Nadu were employed in the last 12 months, versus 19.2 percent of married Bihari women. ... Increasingly, India’s failure to close its north-south demographic and economic divide is leading to political consequences. In Bihar, the pressure on public-sector employment is so great that cuts to government job openings or in military recruitment often spark riots. Meanwhile, southern states such as Tamil Nadu, which is expecting to see its population decline sometime in the next decade, has seen an influx of northern migrant laborers, occasionally leading to friction."
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