Muslims still have highest fertility rate among India's major religious groups, says Pew report

india, pew research center, jains, sikh, Muslims, fertility rate

Muslims in India still have the highest fertility rate among major religious groups, followed by Hindus, while Jains have the lowest fertility rate, a nonpartisan American think tank said in a report on Tuesday, according to which every religious group in the country has seen its fertility fall.

In the latest report on the religious composition of India, Pew Research Center said that among Indian Muslims, the total fertility rate has declined dramatically, from 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to 2.6 children in 2015.

“Every religious group in the country has seen its fertility fall, including the majority Hindu population and Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain minority groups,” it said.

“Muslims still have the highest fertility rate among India’s major religious groups, followed by Hindus at 2.1. Jains have the lowest fertility rate (1.2). The general pattern is largely the same as it was in 1992, when Muslims had the highest fertility rate at 4.4, followed by Hindus at 3.3. But the gaps in childbearing between India’s religious groups are generally much smaller than they used to be,” said the report.

For example, while Muslim women were expected to have an average of 1.1 more children than Hindu women in 1992, the gap had shrunk to 0.5 by 2015, said the report.

“What do these trends mean for India’s religious composition? India’s Muslim population has grown somewhat faster than other religious groups because of fertility differences. But due in part to declining and converging fertility patterns, there have been only modest changes in the overall religious makeup of the population since 1951, when India conducted its first census as an independent nation,” Pew said.

Hindus, it said, made up 79.8 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion total inhabitants in the most recent census, conducted in 2011. That is 0.7 percentage points less than in the previous census in 2001, and 4.3 points below the 84.1% recorded in 1951. Meanwhile, the share of Muslims grew from 13.4 per cent in 2001 to 14.2 per cent in 2011 – up by a total of 4.4 percentage points since 1951, when the census found that Muslims comprised 9.8 per cent of India’s population.

Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who together make up nearly all of the remaining 6 per cent of the population, were relatively stable in their shares since the 1951 census, it said. Statistical analysis of census and survey data shows that fertility has been by far the biggest driver of the modest amount of religious change in the decades since Partition, it added. According to Pew, in India and elsewhere, education is a primary factor in how many children women tend to have. Other prosperity indicators – such as life expectancy and average levels of wealth – also frequently correlate with fertility measures: Women who have better access to schooling, jobs and health care tend to have fewer children, it said.

“Population growth is driven not only by how many children women have but also by the concentration of women of childbearing age. Younger populations have more women entering their prime childbearing years and, as a result, tend to grow faster than older populations,” it said.

“In addition, where people live within India, as well as their history and cultural norms (which are harder to measure), play a role in the choices they make about family matters. In short, people’s religion alone does not determine how many children they will have. Religion is just part of a complicated picture,” Pew said.

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