India's census results mixed

Posted: 26 July 2001

India's 2001 census results show a decline in the population growth rate, an improvement in the ratio of men to women, and a remarkable increase in literacy, particularly for girls and women.

While in the last century the world's population increased more than threefold, India's grew more than fourfold. Still, its growth rate over the last 10 years (21 per cent) was lower than for the previous 10-year period (24 per cent), marking the biggest percentage drop since India became independent in 1947.

Population growth rates by state, showing higher growth in the north.

Literacy is among the most promising aspects of the latest census. India's literacy rate increased by 13 percentage points, from 52 per cent in 1991 to 65 per cent in 2001. Seventy-six per cent of males and 54 per cent of females are now literate, compared with 64 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively, in 1991.

But the sex ratio (males per 1,000 females) for the under-7 population has increased from 1,058 in 1991 to 1,078 in 2001. Explanations for this 20-point difference are disturbing. Improvements in primary health care may have reached boys faster than girls, or worse, more girls may have been aborted or allowed to die after birth. These findings are consistent with those of the second National Family Health Survey.


  • India's population on Census Day, March 1, 2001, stood at 1.03 billion (1,027,015,247). That total is a bit higher than the projected 1,012,386,000. From 1991 to 2001, India's population increased by 181 million, more than the population of Brazil (170 million).

  • At the state level, growth rates varied widely. Three southern states - Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh - had the lowest rates, with Andhra Pradesh registering the most dramatic decline in its growth rate since the last census: down from 24 per cent to 14 per cent. Uttar Pradesh added the most people, 34 million.

  • Crowding worsened. India's density on Census Day this year was 324 people per square kilometre, 57 points higher than in 1991. The highest population density, 9,294 people per square kilometre, was recorded by Delhi Union Territory, the seat of the federal government. Among states, West Bengal was the most crowded, with a density of 904.