Can you imagine a world without human beings? Who would have utilized resources and created the social and cultural environment? The people are important to develop the economy and society. The people make and use resources and are themselves resources with varying quality. Coal is but a piece of rock until people were able to invent technology to obtain it and make it a ‘resource’.

Natural events like a river flood or Tsunami become a ‘disaster’ only when they affect a crowded village or a town. Hence, the population is the pivotal element in social studies. It is the point of reference from which all other elements are observed and from which they derive significance and meaning. 

‘Resources’, ‘calamities’ and ‘disasters’ are all meaningful only in relation to human beings. Their numbers, distribution, growth and characteristics or qualities provide the basic background for understanding and appreciating all aspects of the environment. Human beings are producers and consumers of earth’s resources.


Therefore, it is important to know how many people are there in a country, where do they live, how and why their numbers are increasing and what are their characteristics. The census of India provides us with information regarding the population of our country. We are primarily concerned with three major questions about the population:

  1. Population size and distribution: How many people are there and where are they located?
  2. Population growth and processes of population change: How has the population grown and changed through time?
  3. Characteristics or qualities of the population: What are their age, sex- composition, literacy levels, occupational structure, and health conditions? 


India’s population as of March 2001 stood at 1,028 million, which account for 16.7 percent of the world’s population. These 1.02 billion people are unevenly distributed over our country’s vast area of 3.28 million square km. which accounts for 2.4 percent of the world’s area. 

The 2001 Census data reveals that Uttar Pradesh with a population size of 166 million people is the most populous state of India. Uttar Pradesh accounts for about 16 percent of the country’s population.

On the other hand, the Himalayan state Sikkim has a population of just about 0.5 million and Lakshadweep has only 60 thousand people. Almost half of India’s population lives in just five states. These are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh. Rajasthan, the biggest state in terms of area, has only 5.5 percent of the total population of India


India’s Population Distribution by Density

 Population density provides a better picture of the uneven distribution. Population density is calculated as the number of persons per unit area. India is one of the most densely populated countries of the world.

  The population density of India in the year 2001 was 324 persons per sq km. Densities vary from 904 persons per sq km in West Bengal to only 13 persons per sq km in Arunachal Pradesh. A study of the figure 6.3 shows the pattern of uneven distribution of population densities at the state level.

 Note the states with population densities below 250 persons per square km. Rugged terrain and unfavourable climatic conditions are primarily responsible for sparse population in these areas. Which states have density below 100 persons per square km? Assam and most of the Peninsular states have moderate population densities. Hilly, dissected and rocky nature of the terrain, moderate to low rainfall, shallow and less fertile soils have influenced population densities in these areas. 

The Northern Plains and Kerala in the south have high to very high population densities because of the flat plains with fertile soils and abundant rainfall. Identify the three states of the Northern Plains with high population densities. 



Population is a dynamic phenomenon. The numbers, distribution and composition of the population are constantly changing. This is the influence of the interaction of the three processes, namely-births, deaths and migrations. 

Population Growth

 Growth of population refers to the change in the number of inhabitants of a country/territory during a specific period of time, say during the last ten years. Such a change can be expressed in two ways: in terms of absolute numbers and in terms of percentage change per year. 

The absolute numbers added each year or decade is the magnitude of increase. It is obtained by simply subtracting the earlier population (e.g. that of 1991) from the later population (e.g. that of 2001). It is referred to as the absolute increase. 

The rate or the pace of population increase is the other important aspect. It is studied in per cent per annum, for ex – a rate of increase of 2 per cent per annum means that in a given year, there was an increase of two persons for every 100 persons in the base population. This is referred to as the annual growth rate.

 India’s population has been steadily increasing from 361 million in 1951 to 1028 million in 2001. 

Since 1981, however, the rate of growth started declining gradually. During this period, birth rates declined rapidly. Still 182 million people were added to the total population in the 1990s alone (an annual addition larger than ever before). 

It is essential to realise that India has a very large population. When a low annual rate is applied to a very large population, It yields a large absolute increase. When more than a billion people increase even at a lower rate, the total numbers being added becomes very large. India’s current annual increase in population of 15.5 million is large enough to neutralise efforts to conserve the resource endowment and environment. 

The declining trend of the growth rate is indeed a positive indicator of the efforts of birth control. Despite that, the total additions to the population base continue to grow, and India may overtake China in 2045 to become the most populous country in the world.


Processes of Population Change/Growth 

There are three main processes of change of population: birth rates, death rates, and migration. The natural increase of population is the difference between birth rates and death rates. 

Birth rate is the number of live births per thousand persons in a year. It is a major component of growth because, in India, birth rates have always been higher than death rates. 

Death rate is the number of deaths per thousand persons in a year. The main cause of the rate of growth of the Indian population has been the rapid decline in death rates. 

Till 1980, high birth rates and declining death rates led to a large difference between birth rates and death rates resulting in higher rates of population growth. Since 1981, birth rates have also started declining gradually, resulting in a gradual decline in the rate of population growth. What are the reasons for this trend? 

The third component of population growth IS migration, Migration is the movement of people across regions and territories. Migration can be internal (within the country) or international (between the countries). Internal migration does not change the size of the population, but influences the distribution of population within the nation. Migration plays  a very significant role in changing the composition and distribution of population.  

Age Composition 

  The age composition of a population refers to the number of people in different age groups in a country. It is one of the most basic characteristics of a population. To an important degree, a person’s age influences what he needs buys does, and his capacity to perform. Consequently, the number and percentage of a population found within the children, working-age and aged groups are notable determinants of the population’s social and economic structure.

The population of a nation is generally grouped into three broad categories: Children (generally below 15 years) They are economically unproductive and need to be provided with food, clothing, education and medical care.

Working Age (15-59 years) They are economically productive and biologically reproductive. They comprise the working population. Aged (Above 59 years) They can be economically productive though they may have retired. They may be working voluntarily but they are not available for employment through recruitment. The percentage of children and the aged affect the dependency ratio because these groups are not producers. 


 Sex Ratio 

Sex ratio is defined as the number of females per 1000 males in the population. This information is an important social indicator to measure the extent of equality between males and females in a society at a given time. The sex ratio in the country has always remained unfavourable to females.

 Literacy Rates 

Literacy is a very important quality of a population. Obviously, only an informed and educated citizen can make intelligent choices and undertake research and development projects. Low levels of literacy are a serious obstacle for economic improvement. According to the Census of 2001, a person aged 7 years and above who can read and write with understanding in any language, is treated as literate.

Occupational Structure

 The percentage of population that is economically active is an important index of development. The distribution of the population according to different types of occupation is referred to as the occupational structure. An enormous variety of occupations are found in any country. Occupations are generally classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary. 

Primary activities include agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying etc. Secondary activities include manufacturing industry, building and construction work etc. Tertiary activities include transport, communications, commerce, administration and other services. The proportion of people working in different activities varies in developed and developing countries. Developed nations have a high proportion of people in secondary, and tertiary activities. Developing countries tend to have a higher proportion of their workforce engaged in primary activities. In India, about 64 per cent of the population is engaged only in agriculture. The proportion of population dependent on secondary and tertiary sectors. 


 Health is an important component of population composition, which affects the process of development. Sustained efforts of government programmes have registered significant improvements in the health conditions of the Indian population. Death rates have declined from 25 per 1000 population in 1951 to 8.1 per 1000 in 2001 and life expectancy at birth has increased from 36.7 years in 1951 to 64.6 years in 2001.

Adolescent Population 

The most significant feature of the Indian population is the size of its adolescent population. It constitutes one-fifth of the total population of India. Adolescents are generally grouped in the age group of 10 to 19 years. They are the most important resource for the future. Nutrition requirements of adolescents are higher than those of a normal child or adult. Poor nutrition can lead to deficiency and stunted growth. But in India, the diet available to adolescents is inadequate in all nutrients.

Water and sanitation for healthy India

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