This Will Soon Be the Most Populous Nation on the Planet—and It’s Not China

Updated: Apr. 19, 2023

In 2023, China will not be the country with the highest population for the first time since the United Nations began tracking global populations in 1950.

This year, the United Nations expects one country to finally overtake China as the country with the highest population in the world. Factors like a steadily declining birth rate and an aging population have contributed to China’s recent population growth crisis. So what country is poised to take over as the most populous in the world this year? India.

While both India and China’s birth rates have been at a relative decline in recent years, China’s has been slowing at a dramatic rate, due to a variety of factors. Let’s take a deeper look into why India will soon have the most people on the planet.

What country has the highest population?

Currently, China is the country with the highest population in the world, with an estimated 1.4 billion people. But, if recent data is any indication, China could soon be overtaken by India as the country with the highest population in the world.

What is India’s population?

India’s population is currently estimated at 1.38 billion people. To put that into a bit of perspective, India’s largest city Utter Pradesh, has an estimated population of 230 million people; the smallest city has an estimated population of 68,000.

What is causing China’s population decline?

One of the most notable factors in China’s population decline was its former One Child Policy. Since the 1970s, birth rates have been dropping steadily; as of 2015, they were just 1.5 births per woman. China ended its One Child Policy in 2016, instituting a new two-child policy and later a three-child policy in 2021 to attempt to combat rapidly declining birthrates.

According to a 2019 report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China may begin to see negative population growth as soon as 2027.  Economists are concerned that the lowering population in China may exacerbate factors leading to an economic recession. This is because, for decades, China’s large population has been an asset in keeping labor costs low. With more potential workers, there will likely be a decrease in labor opportunities, raising wages and thereby incentivizing international companies to invest in cheaper factories elsewhere. This potential labor crisis is further underscored by China’s disproportionately elderly population.

What does India’s population look like?

While China’s population tends toward citizens 65 years or older (nearly 11% of the total population in 2016), India is one of the “youngest countries in the world.” Over 27% of its population is aged 15 to 29 and its total fertility rate from 2019 to 2021 was two births per woman. These factors have contributed to a steady 1.2% average population increase rate since 2011.

Only time will tell if the Chinese government will be able to successfully encourage a baby boom to increase its population once more. However, experts predict that by 2050, just eight countries will be responsible for over half of the global population increase. Additionally, because the third most populous country—the United States—has just about one-quarter of the population of China or India (334 million), it’s safe to say we’ll be watching these Big Two countries duke it out for the foreseeable future.