Muslim Fertility Is Declining & Religion Has Nothing to Do With it

The Hindu fringe has got it all wrong. 

4 min read
Muslim families have shrunk at a much faster rate in the last two decades. (Image: The Quint/Hardeep Singh)

Nearly 107 years ago, UN Mukherji wrote the book, Hindus: A Dying Race, which predicted the extinction of Hindus. The fear expressed then on the basis of unscientific assumptions continues to resonate till today. The perceived fear of the majority community losing that status due to conversion or much higher rates of population growth among other communities has been used by some leaders to whip up passions. And that is the reason why Hindu right wing leaders have been exhorting fellow community members to abandon family planning and follow the ideal family size set by lord Krishna’s parents.

But the false alarmists should take note of a series of good news in recent years. The latest one shows that while the average size of the family in the country as a whole fell by 5.3 percent in the last decade, that of an average Muslim family has declined by more than 11 percent.

  • Religious affiliation has very little to do with the size of a family.
  • The average size of a Muslim family is larger than other communities.
  • But, the growth rate of the Muslim population in India has shown a considerable decline.
  • The average size of a Muslim family has declined by more than 11%.
  • Reports suggest use of contraceptives going up among Muslims.
  • Differences in growth rate is more due to socio-economic conditions than religious affiliations.

Long-Term Trend Positive

This is just one of many data sets clearly establishing a long-term trend of growth rates in different communities reaching some sort of convergence much earlier than anticipated. Just sample this: In the decade gone by (2001-2011) while the growth rate among Muslims dropped by nearly 5 percentage points, that of Hindus fell by 3 percentage points. Even in the previous decade of 1991-2001, the average annual growth of the Hindu population fell by 23 basis points compared to the previous decade, while the decline among Muslims was higher at 27 basis points.

There is no denying that the growth rate of Muslims has been higher than other communities. It is also a fact that the average size of a Muslim family is larger than other communities. But the fact that the rates have begun to decline at a faster clip now indicates that religious affiliation has very little to do with the size of family.

(Graphics: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
(Graphics: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

Favourable Social Indices Contributing to Lower Growth

The decade of 2001-2011 was also when decadal population growth rates in what is now known as EAG (empowered action group) states fell for the first time, and that too by a whopping 4 percentage points. The decline was nearly 6 percentage points in Uttar Pradesh and a much sharper 7 percentage points in Rajasthan. EAG states consist of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

These are the states where use of contraceptives has gone up, infant mortality rates have come down, and the mean age of marriage has inched up. Favourable social indicators are responsible for bringing down population growth rates in relatively less developed states. It is very likely that same factors are having these positive effects on Muslim communities as well; we have reports suggesting that the usage of contraceptives among Muslims is going up.

(Graphics: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
(Graphics: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

No Such Thing as ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ Fertility

Region-wise analysis further establishes that there is nothing called “Hindu fertility” or “Muslim fertility”. That differences in growth rates are more attributable to socio-economic conditions rather than religious affiliations. How else are we to explain the fact that the growth rate of Hindus in Bihar is almost twice the growth rate of Hindus in Tamil Nadu? Similarly, the growth rate of Muslims in Kerala is almost half their growth rate in Uttar Pradesh.

The picture was no different in the period from 1991to 2001. In the whole of South India, for instance, the average annual population growth rate of Muslims at 1.66 percent was way below the national average of 1.9 per cent. The average annual population growth rates of Muslims in Kerala and Tamil Nadu were even lower at 1.47 per cent and 1.28 percent respectively. And we know that southern states in general – Kerala and Tamil Nadu in particular – have high literacy rates among women, and offer better healthcare services. So blame poor social infrastructure for the growth differential, not religion.

(Graphics: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)
(Graphics: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

Here’s another trend that we should not lose sight of: The growth rate of Muslims in states where they comprise a higher share of the population has been muted. There are eight states and union territories in the country where Muslims make up more than their national average of 14.2 percent of the population. In four of them, their growth rates have been much lower than the overall growth rate of Muslims.

In Kerala and Lakshwadeep, decadal growth rates of Muslims are at 12.8 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively; much lower than the overall growth rate of 17.7 per cent for the country as a whole.

Alarmists may pick and choose and show us a different picture. But data have their own story to tell. Shouldn’t we put an end to all debates based on questionable assumptions?

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