India surpasses China to become the world’s most populous country

Demographic trends show population increasing into the 2060s

Today's expression: Headed in
Explore more: Lesson #568
May 1, 2023:

India has passed China to become the world's most populous country, according to U.N. population projections. About 1.4 billion people live in both, but India's population will continue to grow into the 2060s, projections show. In this lesson, you'll learn more about what is now the world's biggest country by population. Plus, learn the English expression "headed in."

Be your best self in English

Move confidently through the English-speaking world

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptActivitiesDig deeperYour turn
No translationsEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

India is now the world’s biggest country by population—probably

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help English learners upgrade their skills in their new language. We do that with lessons on current events and trending topics. And each lesson also helps you express new ideas in English, too. This is lesson number 568. Plain English is produced by JR, and JR has uploaded the full lesson to PlainEnglish.com/568.

Coming up today: For more than two centuries, China has been the world’s most populous country—until, that is, last month. Now India has surpassed its rival China to become the country with the most people in the world, according to projections. On today’s lesson, you’ll learn more about the world’s most populous country. In the second half of the lesson, I’ll show you how to use the English expression “headed in” and we have a quote of the week. Let’s get started.

India surpasses China to lead world in population

The economic story of the past half-century has been China’s rise as the world’s workshop. When it first opened up, economically, it was seen as an almost unlimited source of cheap manufacturing labor. But as the years passed, China developed a much more advanced manufacturing economy, with tightly-knit supply chains, local expertise, and a vast consumer market all its own.

What will be the economic story of the next half century? For answers, we can look to population. According to U.N. forecasts, India has surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. This month, according to projections, India and China will have approximately 1.4 billion people each—but India slightly more.

And this isn’t a blip . In terms of population, the two countries are headed in opposite directions.

To see why, consider one big driver of population growth: fertility. China’s fertility rate is 1.18. That means the average woman will have 1.18 children in her lifetime, far less than the replacement rate, which is just over two. Many young Chinese face a 4-2-1 problem: one child supports two parents and four grandparents.

By contrast, India’s fertility rate is about 2.0. That’s also less than replacement, but that’s not the whole story. India’s population is much younger. The average Indian is 27 years old; the average Chinese person is more than a decade older. That means many, many more people are entering childbearing age in India than in China. And it also means that many, many more people are entering the workforce.

This is a big change. India’s population is expected to peak in 2064 at 1.7 billion people. If the forecasts are correct, India will have 50 percent more residents than China in that year.

Let me put this another way. Barring the unthinkable, India will be the most populous country for the rest of your life, and probably your children’s and grandchildren’s lives, too. So here are some things to know about the world’s new most-populous country.

India is incredibly diverse. There are 22 officially-recognized languages. The most-commonly spoken is Hindi, which is the native language of only about four in ten Indians. English is commonly spoken in the large cities, in government, and in big business—but only about 12 percent of the population speaks English.

For a large country, the population is also very rural. Only about 35 percent of its residents live in cities; compare that to over 60 percent in China, 82 percent in the United States, and 87 percent in Brazil.

About eighty percent of the population identify as Hindus, the dominant religious group. About 15 percent are Muslim, 2 percent Christian. About thirty percent of Indians are vegetarians, many for religious or ethical reasons. Hinduism teaches respect for all living beings, so many Hindus are vegetarian for spiritual reasons.

We think of India as a hot country—and it is. But it also has the cooler Himalayan Mountains in the north. There are jungles, deserts, beaches, and tropics. India is home to the largest population of people, and also to the largest population of Bengal tigers in the world.

Economically, many Americans know India for its prowess in IT services, information technology. Indian offices have expanded to provide a wide range of business services. For centuries, it has been an exporter of textiles, including silk and cotton. Indian scarves, suits, and carpets are famous. It has a thriving film industry. That’s called Bollywood; India produces more films per year than any other country.

The capital is Delhi, in the north. The biggest city is Mumbai, in the south. India shares a border with six countries: China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal. India’s borders are a sore subject. Its border with China is disputed, with each side claiming control over the same area. And it’s a similar story with Pakistan: the Kashmir region is claimed by both countries.

In geopolitics, India often goes its own way. It did not join sanctions against Russia for the war in Ukraine and India continues to buy Russian oil, while at the same time maintaining close ties to the United States and Europe. It tries to straddle both sides of the U.S.-China rivalry.

India also has a famously large diaspora—the population of people of Indian descent living in other countries. Estimates, and definitions, vary, but it could be about 25 million people who have brought Indian culture, languages, food, and traditions to other countries.

India’s two centuries (or more)

So, if China and India are roughly equal, right now, in May 2023, what other countries are the most populous after those two? This is incredible. Number three is the United States, with about 300 million. So, one and two are 1.4 billion; number three is only 300 million. Next after that are Indonesia and Pakistan, both fast-growing countries, with about 250 million people each.

In terms of population, then, there are the two giants…and then a huge gap before the next-biggest country. It could be another two centuries or longer before the world sees a different country atop the population tables.

Great stories make learning English fun

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

QuizListeningPronunciationVocabularyGrammar

Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership


Starter feature

Test your listening skills

Make sure you’re hearing every word. Listen to an audio clip, write what you hear, and get immediate feedback


Starter feature

Upgrade your pronunciation

Record your voice, listen to yourself, and compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Starter feature

Sharpen your listening

Drag the words into the correct spot in this interactive exercise based on the Plain English story you just heard


Starter feature

Improve your grammar

Practice choosing the right verb tense and preposition based on real-life situations



Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership

Plus+ feature

Practice sharing your opinion

Get involved in this story by sharing your opinion and discussing the topic with others

Expression: Headed in