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.


India can do as well as china if we utilize our human talent correctly. Indians in the US are amongst the brightest in technology and management. Based on personal observations in the US, indians are more innovative whereas chinese are more industrious. If India can tap into the potential of it's people and give them the right opportunities, it can reach great power status.


The favorable demographic dividend for India will make sense only if: the population is better educated, the women economic participation is greater, infrastructure is there and efficient, FDI policies are improved. Otherwise the often talked about favorable demographic dividend will have no meaning at all.