Dear Dr K,
I hear that by 2020 India will be one of the youngest countries in the world. What does this mean? How will this happen?
A friend of mine by the name of T K Theekhay told me this yesterday and I was completely baffled by the news. “One of the youngest countries? But India is one of the oldest countries! We have traditions that have been going on from time immemorial! Our cultures have developed over several millennia! We have grown out of one of the founding civilisations of mankind! We are –“
And then my friend has to interrupt my rant and calm me down. He clarified that when the Economic Survey said that India would be one of the youngest nations by 2020, they meant that the average age of Indians would be one of the lowest in the entire world.
“What will that average age be?” I asked Theekhay.
“29” he said.
“29?” I said. “But that is not so young. Even I am younger than that.”
“Compared to other national averages it is quite young,” said Theekhay.
“But why by 2020? Shouldn’t we already be one of the youngest countries in the world then? It’s not as if 29-year olds are going to pop out of their mothers’ wombs in eight years’ time.
Obviously right now all those 29-year-olds are 21 years old right now, so the average age should be 21 years — which would already make us one of the youngest countries in the world — unless other countries are planning on somehow overtaking us by ageing their population very quickly.”
“The AVERAGE age,” Theekhay said.
“That doesn’t mean there will be lots of 29-year-olds suddenly, it means that if you add up the ages of everyone in the nation and divide it by the population, it will be 29.”
“So that number will obviously increase by one every year, since everyone grows older at the same rate — which means right now the average age should be 21 now, right?”
“No,” Theekhay said, and then said something which has altered the way I understand the human race, “There are new people who are born and old people who die.”
“Oh,” I said, my mind exploding with this new revelation. And then I asked, “What difference does that make?”
“That means unless the older people live longer to compensate for the number of new babies that will be born over the next eight years, the average age of the population will go down. You will be adding a lot of 0s to the total age of the nation and subtracting a lot of 60s and 70s.”
“And is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked.
“A bad thing probably, because there will be a lot more people of working age and given our nation’s infrastructure they would not be adequately educated or healthy enough to contribute to the country’s economy.”
“There might not be enough jobs for everyone in the country.”
As you can see, if you had asked me this a few days ago I would have been completely unable to answer your question.
Thankfully, I had asked my good friend T K Theekhay the same thing just before you did, so I took the liberty of reproducing our entire conversation here for your benefit.