- China and India are the two largest countries in terms of population size.
- China's population has been larger than India's for over 300 years, but this could change as early as 2026.
- India's population is predicted to reach over 1.6 billion around 2060.
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.
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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.
*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.
Find the animated graphic here: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-population-race-a-300-year-look-at-china-vs-india/
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.
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.