Tiger vs. Dragon: A Demographic Comparison of India and China

One of the biggest story lines of the 21st century is going to be the continued economic rise of China and India. According to the World Bank, both countries grew at a rate of 9.1% in 2009. Here’s a chart of their growth since the 1960s:

While their recent growth has been roughly similar, China and India also boast the two largest populations on the planet. But a new study by RAND shows the giants heading down different demographic paths. From the abstract:

Demographic contrasts between China and India will become more pronounced in the coming decades, and these differences hold implications for the countries’ relative economic prospects. China’s population is larger than India’s, but India’s population is expected to surpass China’s by 2025. China’s population is older than India’s and beginning to age rapidly, which may constrain economic growth, whereas an increasing percentage of India’s population will consist of working-age people through 2030, giving India an important demographic advantage. How much these demographic changes affect economic growth will depend on several other factors, including the infrastructure, education system, and health care systems in each country and how well each country integrates women into its workforce.

Here’s a breakdown of this demography race:

  • Population goes to India: India has more children per mother – 2.65 versus China’s 1.54 – mostly due to China’s one-child policy. Because of their low birth rate, China also has an older population, which is significant for the smaller working age population they’re left with. China’s working age population peaked in 2010 at 73%, and is beginning to decline. India’s working population was 65% in 2010, and continues to increase.
  • Women in the Workplace goes to China: Though China may have an aging population, they also have a higher percentage of women in the workforce, 67% of women 15 and older compared to India’s 33%.
  • Education goes to China: China has higher literacy rates.
  • Health goes to China: China has better access to health care than India.
  • Infrastructure goes to China: China has better infrastructure, and also more “openness of foreign trade and a sound financial system.”

Comparing the ratios of men to women, they both lose, with a disproportionate number of men leaving generations of bachelors twisting in the wind.


Another point to make is that the graph above compares GDP growth, but not GDP per capita. Since India had stronger population growth, the actual increase in wealth per person was quite a bit greater in China. Here is the World Bank comparison for India and China in GDP per capita:

By the way, China's fertility rate fell faster BEFORE the One Child Policy than after, as you can see in the World Bank graph:

The real decline happened between 1967 (total fertility rate at 5.91) to 1978 (2.91). As far as I know the One Child Policy started only in 1979.


S Aiyar

What if the larger younger workforce of India
doesn't find enough jobs?


You don't find jobs. You create them.


A posh Indian is basically British so I'm on their side. 'Mon the Raj.

Nyayapati Gautam

Nowadays he/she is mostly American. We don't give a rat's a** about Britain or its culture anymore.


There is an implicit assumption that India's demographics automatically put it on the Chinese path to global power. Nothing is further from the truth.

I recently finished a six month stint in India. I had previously done one in China. India is different from almost anywhere else in the world and light years away from China.

We frequently talk about that fact that business is not a zero-sum-game. In India it is. An Indian businessperson is not satisfied with winning over market share. They must absolutely destroy their competitor. Business success was somehow unsatisfying to an Indian businessperson if it does not include the humiliation or vanquishment of their counterpart. From the fruit vendor to the call center conglomerate, pleasure comes not from the profit but from pain produced in the competitor.

A chance meeting with a western neurospychologist who was there for an extended period gave me some interesting insights. She was convinced that the need to induce pain in others was the result the repressed rage produced by a strict culture that dictated virtually every aspect of life including the choice of spouse. As one Indian guru announced at a meeting I was attending, "Marriage is a prison," and that rage is vented on their fellow inmates.

In general, the rest of the world does not work this way. Even in the most competitive environments we cooperate fairly well. China's greatest competitive advantage lies in the Chinese people who work so well together.



Many people come for a brief visit with preconceived notions that they were taught in their childhood about other cultures and they only see what they want to see - the need for consistency with their existing beliefs is too strong for them to look with open eyes.

There is also a repressed need to vilify others in an effort to absolve their own historical actions and justify their failed relationships and rocketing divorce rates at home.
These sanctimonious rants speak a lot about the speaker.

Indians are some of the most social, open and welcoming of people.

The inequality index in India is far less than that in western countries, especially the US - check the gini coefficient. Healthcare is cheap and more accessible to the middle class than in the US. India has tried to maintain a balance between openness and democracy as well as a societal net to care for its citizens.

The Indian competitiveness is be because of limited opportunities, not culture.

Chinese have benefitted from proximity to Japan and Korea and greater cultural homogeneity. Like anything else every benefit also has a negative side - the need to enforce greater conformity on its citizens.



Niavva, you said, "Indians are some of the most social, open and welcoming of people". I doubt. I am politically indian, racially NOT. Now you know who i am. I grew up in the north east and have spent major part of my life now in the capital city.

Your definition of social, open and welcoming needs clarification. I tell you, if you run into a decent guy (Covers young, old, men, women, educated, uneducated) in a day in a city like New Delhi, it makes my day. But its too seldom and too far between. Rest of the experiences of a day generally are negative.

Anna has a very very good point although at some points she might have exaggerated. One human being has no respect for another human being. But they will go as far as touching another human's feet to show respect, to whom they think they ought to respect, genuinely or pretentiously. They wont walk past a house of worship/temple without crossing their hearts. But they have no intention of doing good to the next person they run into. Its lame. you call it culture its just pretense. The social fabric is built with that word, pretense. How do you expect a good cohesive working culture among the people? People are on the wrong side of "WISE" and have their defenses armed with "fcck the other guy, before you get fccked" readiness.

To an extend, i also agree with your line, "The Indian competitiveness is because of limited opportunities, not culture".


saverio manzo

A key differentiator that was really not referenced is the role and capacity of governments between India and China. China clearly long-term strategists in almost all there decisions; from food/agriculture, to raw materials to building infrastructure to urban housing build, etc etc.

I get the sense that one day soon we'll see some old and decisive action on behalf of what has always appeared to be a lame duck government in India. Then we'll really see them advance and lead the world.

saverio manzo


I always find it interesting when people use statistics to form conclusions about countries that they have not spent siginificant time in. I currently live and work in China and have been doing so on and off for the better part of the past fifteen years, and let me tell you, the picture is not nearly as rosy as people outside the country make it out to be. Some of the problems China faces:

1) Food/water supply...the supply of arable land is decreasing rapidly due to industrialization, and the water supply is already quite polluted. Already many areas are being subjected to water rationing, and the problem is only going to get worse.

2) Disintegration of family support structures...the one-child policy's unforseen side-effects include lots of spoiled only children with no aunts/uncles/cousins who are very self-centered and have difficulty working with others

3) Corruption...IMHO the biggest internal threat China faces is social unrest stemming from the Communist Party's inability/unwillingness to stamp out corruption...if anything is going to cause large numbers of people to get seriously pissed off, this is going to be it.

4) Lack of a true management class...although Chinese college graduates often have very good technical skills, they lack the type of business and management skills needed to be successful in the real world. They lack initiative, are incapable of problem-solving/thinking outside the box, and have difficulty working as part of a team. Note that while Chinese companies have become very good at doing the same things that western companies do more efficiently and at lower cost, they have yet to create a ground-breakingly innovative company of their own.

Food for thought for those who think China is destined to take over the world...



In discussions like this it is important to note that size does matter...

India is one-third the size of the U.S. but has FOUR TIMES the population. India's population density is 953 people per square mile while the U.S has only 83 people per square mile.

China has 363 people per square mile and is about the same size as the U.S..

As anyone who has flow over India knows, the country is rapidly running out of room. Take a look at a satellite map of Asia. Much of India is deforested. It is a sad picture when compared to China or countries with a similar latitudes in Southeast Asia.

Indefinite growth may be the mantra for those who have room to grow. India is fast approaching the tipping point where no technology advancement will allow them to maintain the status quo.


No problem. We will send them over to the USA. We have a huge surplus of dalits who can do everything from doctoring, cleaning your teeth, to cleaning your droppings. And of course, lots robotic programmers.


And we will gladly take them. That is precisely the reason the US is resilient. We take a few of the best from each country. More than a few from India. They prove to be remarkable adaptable to our strange ways.


what if the government of china removed one child policy in future ,the reason is that if they believe that their country will be able to hold the large population efficiently because we knew that the reason behind one child policy was that their government was unable to fullfill the needs and demands of such a huge popn but things have changed a lot now adays. they are far more ahead in nearly every sector than india.


And one more think we should keep in mind that china is the country who does the things which are unbelievable and massive and if they got the intention to increase the no of youngsters in the country the wont take long.

atul nilave

china 100
india 0
indian govt ki aukad nahi ki we china se muqaqbala kare
china is too much ahead in infrastructure development & all other fields too

atul nilave

india is lacking the strong political decisions after vajpeyi