The publication Sri Lanka: 25 Million People and Implications, Population and Housing Projections 2012-2062, jointly by Prof Indralal de Silva and Dr. Ranjith de Silva presents comprehensive population projections for the period 2012-2062 incorporating the latest information revealed in the Census of Population and Housing 2012.  This book is valuable for many reasons. It contains [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Near zero population growth would be reached after 2062

Book Review

The publication Sri Lanka: 25 Million People and Implications, Population and Housing Projections 2012-2062, jointly by Prof Indralal de Silva and Dr. Ranjith de Silva presents comprehensive population projections for the period 2012-2062 incorporating the latest information revealed in the Census of Population and Housing 2012.  This book is valuable for many reasons. It contains useful comparisons of demographic variables between Sri Lanka and other countries. It has been written in simple non-technical language and all assumptions used have been clearly spelt out. The vast amount of information contained in the book is presented concisely in just over 100 pages. It should prove useful and interesting to policy planners, researchers, students and others from diverse academic backgrounds and those concerned with future of the country.

This latest population projection has been eagerly awaited by policy planners and researchers alike, ever since it became clear that the country’s fertility rate had increased appreciably in the last 10 years or so that was totally unexpected. The projections that had been made hitherto were therefore biased downwards, and policy recommendations made based on these projections became outdated.  The latest population projections in this publication are revealing. They are somewhat of a reversal of what was expected. The new projected population profile has significant implications for the country’s economic and social policies. This book does not merely provide an update of the population projection, but also discusses a vast array of issues related to demography in Sri Lanka and abroad.

These projections must be considered in the planning of health facilities, education and social welfare (particularly the care of the elderly).There are also serious implications for the public finances of the country, labour force participation, retirement benefits and retirement age. The book has four key themes: Population change until 2012 and reliability of projection results; Projection of population 2012-2062; Projection of households 2012-2062 and projected increase of population and its implications.

Interesting comparisons
The book provides projections of both population and households. Further the discussion under the theme projected population increase and its implication deals not only with the standard issues of demographic dividends and population ageing but also covers aspects such as future demand for housing and environmental degradation, which are of great relevance for policy formulation at present.  Trends in the historic growth in population are discussed under the theme population change till 2012 and evidence of population levels prior to the first Census in 1871 is briefly presented. The growth in population as revealed in the more systematic ‘Census’ conducted during 1871 to 2012 is analysed in greater detail. Authors make an interesting comparison of the accuracy of past projections of researchers in Sri Lanka and the UN. The central theme of this publication is the ‘Projection of the Population 2012-2062’. Here the cohort component method has been used to compute the population for a 50-year period with the base year information of the Census of Population and Housing 2012.

Population growth is driven by three components: fertility, mortality and migration. Fertility trends are most crucial in population projections. Indeed it was the totally unexpected increase in fertility above the replacement level in the last 10 years that gave rise to an urgent need for revision of the population projection. According to the authors, Sri Lanka is unique among South Asian countries in experiencing this upturn in fertility.  The projection of determinants of population growth is done under three scenarios; standard, high and low, with the standard projection representing the most plausible path. For the purpose of these population projections, the precise fertility rate assumed for each 5-year interval for each scenario is discussed and provided in tabular form.  Measures relating to male and female life expectancy at birth have been used to examine the mortality transition in the country. The assumptions with respect to mortality in each of the scenarios are also provided in detail in a table. This chapter also provides a comparison of Sri Lanka’s life expectancy with other selected countries. Sri Lanka would reach a life expectancy close to that of contemporary Japan by 2057-2062.

Migration trends
The projection of migration is preceded by a discussion on past migration trends in the different phases of the country’s development and the nature of contemporary migration is discussed. The assumptions on net migration have been formulated both through past trends and consultations with officers of the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Foreign Employment Bureau. The expected migration trends are presented in tabular form by 5-year intervals. The availability of assumptions on fertility, life expectancy and migration during the projected period in tabulated form is extremely useful for analysts. Whenever a deviation from these assumptions is observed in the future, users would realise that the projection has become outdated, and would in general be able to gauge the direction of the bias and accordingly make amendments to plans based on the population projection. Further the projection on life expectancy would in itself be useful for the health sector and planning of geriatric care.

The projection of the population is presented in three scenarios: High, Standard and Low. The most plausible scenario is the standard population projection which is based on standard projections of the three components fertility, mortality and migration.
Under the standard projection, the population would reach 21.3 million in 2017 and 22.2 million by 2022. The size of the population would reach 25 million by 2042 and 25.8 million by 2062. This implies that the population grows until 2062 and reaches stability between 25-26 million. This is a significant departure from earlier projections that indicated population stability would be reached much earlier and the population would actually begin to decline in the early 2030s. This deviation is mainly due to the increase in fertility from below replacement level to above replacement level in the past 10 years or so.

Reproductive age for women
Since a large number of women will enter reproductive age in the next few years and the expected total fertility rate would be above the replacement level for some time, there is an in-built momentum for the growth of population in the next three to four decades. However, the rate of growth in the population will be on a declining trend and it is estimated that a near zero population growth would be attained after 2062.
The population projection is used to derive the components of population growth such as the crude birth rate, the crude death rate and the natural increase in the population for the period 2012-2062. According to a-priori expectations there is a convergence between birth and death rates, with the natural increase in population steadily declining. The authors point out that as the number of the elderly grow, the higher mortality among them would override the conditions for declining mortality and result in an increase in the crude death rate.

The projection implies that the sex ratio would favour females for the next two decades. However due to an expected improvement in male health in the next decade, and the elimination of some factors, such as the war that reduced male life expectancy in the past, male survival rates could improve. However, if male migrant rates exceed female migrant rates, the sex ratio would increase marginally in favour of males after about two decades. The shape of Sri Lanka’s population pyramid has been changing rapidly over the years. This pyramid, which had a classical shape in 1981, changed into a pagoda like structure by 2012. The authors draw attention to the fact that during the interim period, the working age population had grown significantly. The proportion of children (below 15 years) had declined from 35 per cent in 1981 to 25 per cent in 2012. The book presents the projected population pyramids for 2022, 2042 and 2062. The declining fertility over the years is depicted by the progressive decline in the base of the pyramids.

Decline in child population
The authors point out that children less than 15 years are the most susceptible to the assumptions made in the projections and their number will depend on the changes in the number of women in reproductive age and changes in child and infant mortality. An accurate estimate of the number of children is of much importance when making projections on expenditure on education.  This number which stood at 5.1 million in 2012 and will increase to 5.3 million in 2017, will remain fairly static for the next 10 years, and fall once again to 5.1 million by 2032. Thereafter, it would be on a declining trend and drop to 4.4 million by 2062. Earlier predictions expected a continuous decline in the child population.
The projection of households covers the rate of increase in households and age and sex distribution of household heads, while a comparison is made between the structure of base year and end year projection of households.

The discussion of the implications of population increases has some interesting observations. The period when the demographic dividend accrues according to this new projection spans 1991 to 2019 when the working age population is taken to be 15-59 years, whereas it spans 1991-2034 if the working age population is taken to be 15-64. This is a slight increase in the period of the demographic dividend that was estimated under the earlier predictions. However, it is emphasised that we have already passed the most attractive period of the demographic dividend which was around 2001.  The authors point out that many countries in East Asia experienced rapid economic growth during the period of their demographic dividend. Sri Lanka now has just a few more years in this regard and it is imperative that economic planners urgently identify growth sectors in the economy in order to generate sufficient economic opportunities for the influx of workers into the labour market during the rest of the period in which the demographic dividend prevails.

The issue of ageing that is discussed is of utmost importance. According to the projection the percentage of elderly (defined as those over 60 years) will increase from 12.4 per cent in 2012 to 25.8 per cent in 2062. The growth rate in the elderly population will increase until 2022 and thereafter decline. The composition of the elderly would change over the years with the proportion of the “old” elderly (80 years and above) among the elderly increasing from 1.3 per cent in 2012 to 6.4 per cent in 2062. These figures are striking and have vast implications for geriatric health care services. The future demand for housing and deforestation are discussed in the book.

The required housing stock that has been estimated until 2062 imply that unless Sri Lanka engages private or civil society organisations to build and upgrade houses and housing facilities, without the involvement of government, it would not be possible to meet the future demand for housing.  The brief section on deforestation discusses the depletion of forest cover in the past with the population increase and concludes that forest cover would definitely be reduced in the future with population growth as more land would be needed to meet the demand for food production and for development activities.

Invaluable book
This book is invaluable for policy planners and researchers who need to use population projections in their work. Population projections are used by policy makers and planners to project future demand for necessities and for services like health and education. A large number of documents and research papers have been produced by national and international agencies using earlier population projections. Their conclusions and recommendations would need to be revisited in the light of these new population projections.  Earlier population projections showed that the labour force would begin to decline from the mid-2030s. Manpower planners should take note that this is now not the case and the labour force would continue to expand in the first half of this century.

The prediction that the number of children would begin to decline continuously has changed as according to this latest projection the child population will grow in 2017 and remain static until 2027 and thereafter decline. Therefore the expenditure on educational infrastructure will not be contained. These are only two instances where implications based on previous population projections would have to be revised.  This book is valuable for policy planners, researchers and students from diverse academic backgrounds. All those interested in the future of the country should take note of these population projections and their implications.

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