The Population Race: A 300-Year Look at China vs. India
One of the biggest demographic milestones that our world faces is less than a decade away.
Today, China and India boast the largest populations, outpacing all others by a mile. The total populations of these two nations have been climbing for years, but India is moving at a faster clip. The big question is: When will India overtake China in population?
This interactive chart by Our World in Data pulls past and projected population data from the United Nations, comparing the 300-year trajectory of China vs. India to answer this burning question.
China vs. India Population (1800-2100p)
In 1800, India’s population was at a modest 169 million. In contrast, the Chinese population was nearly double that with 322 million at the turn of the 19th century.
It wasn’t until 1950 that the total populations of both countries started shooting up exponentially, and here’s where it starts to get interesting. China reached the 1 billion milestone in 1980, while India took a little longer to get there in 1997.
And now, India is on target to overtake China’s total population in 2026, when both countries are expected to be at the 1.46 billion people mark.
|Country||1800||2026p||2100p||Absolute change (1800-2100)||Relative change|
*Note: Absolute change numbers may not be exact due to rounding.
Although the populations of both countries will begin contracting in the mid-21st century, India is expected to stay atop the global population leaderboard even by more moderate estimates.
China vs. India Demographics
While it appears that population growth in India is effectively mirroring that of China, there’s more to examine under the surface.
What demographic trends lie behind the eventual contraction later this century? Let’s look at the two population pyramids to find out.
In China, growth has been underscored by a strict “one-child” policy, implemented in 1979. Even with the updated “two-child” policy in 2016, there’s no coming back from this decision—China is now contending with a rapidly aging population. It’s anticipated that over one-third of Chinese citizens will be 65 years old and above by 2050.
Meanwhile in neighboring India, the workforce is just beginning to take off—65% of its population is currently aged 35 years and below. High rates of digital adoption are further compounding economic growth in the country, especially as the world becomes increasingly reliant on telecom and IT services.
China vs. India Economy
Another question this dramatic change begs is: at these rates of population change, can India’s GDP growth also surpass China’s in the next several decades?
The short answer is likely a no, although both countries will still see immense GDP gains during this time. According to PwC, six of the seven largest economies in the world by 2050 will be today’s emerging markets—led by China and India in that order.
|Country||GDP (PPP) 2016||GDP (PPP) 2050||Share of global|
|🇨🇳 China||$21.3T||$58.5T||20%||+2% (p.p.)|
|🇮🇳 India||$8.7T||$44.1T||15%||+8% (p.p.)|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||$18.6T||$34.1T||12%||-4% (p.p.)|
While India isn’t likely to be the “next” China in terms of global GDP, it’s certainly giving it a fair fight as a potential rising superpower—and it all stems from the combined might of its growing population.
Ranked: The World’s 50 Top Countries by GDP, by Sector Breakdown
This graphic shows GDP by country, broken down into three main sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.
Visualized: The Three Pillars of GDP, by Country
Over the last several decades, the service sector has fueled the economic activity of the world’s largest countries. Driving this trend has been changes in consumption, the easing of trade barriers, and rapid advancements in tech.
We can see this in the gross domestic product (GDP) breakdown of each country, which gets divided into three broad sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.
The above graphic from Pranav Gavali shows GDP by country, and how each sector contributes to an economy’s output, with data from the World Bank.
Drivers of GDP, by Country
As the most important and fastest growing component of GDP, services make up almost 60% of GDP in the world’s 50 largest countries. Following this is the industrial sector which includes the production of raw goods.
Below, we show how each sector contributes to GDP by country as of 2021:
|🇰🇷 South Korea||57.0||32.4||1.8||8.8||$1.8|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||46.5||44.7||2.7||6.1||$0.8|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||89.7||6.0||0.1||4.3||$0.4|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||63.0||24.5||2.5||10.0||$0.4|
Industrial sector includes construction. Agriculture sector includes forestry and fishing. *Data as of 2019.
In the U.S., services make up nearly 78% of GDP. Apart from Hong Kong, it comprises the highest share of GDP across the world’s largest economies. Roughly 80% of American jobs in the private sector are in services, spanning from healthcare and entertainment to finance and logistics.
Like America, a growing share of China’s GDP is from services, contributing to almost 54% of total economic output, up from 44% in 2010. This can be attributed to rising incomes and higher productivity in the sector as the economy has grown and matured, among other factors.
In a departure from the top 10 biggest countries globally, agriculture continues to drive a large portion of India’s GDP. India is the world’s second largest producer of wheat and rice, with agriculture accounting for 44% of the country’s employment.
While the services sector has grown in India, it makes up a greater share in other emerging economies such as Brazil (58%), Mexico (59%), and the Philippines (61%).
Services-led growth has risen faster than manufacturing across many developing nations, underpinned by productivity growth.
This structural shift is seen across economies. In many countries in Africa, for instance, jobs have increasingly moved from agriculture to services and trade, where it now accounts for 42% of jobs.
These growth patterns are supported by rising incomes in developing economies, while innovation in tech is lowering barriers to enabling service growth. As the industrial sector makes up a lower share of trade and economic activity, the service sector is projected to make up 77% of global GDP by 2035.
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