population growth

We Ask An Expert: Will Indonesia's Population Exceed The U.S?

All your friends are having kids, but does that mean Indonesia will finally surpass the U.S. in the great population race?
February 24, 2017, 7:18am
Photo by Arzia Tivany

In many cultures birth is often times associated with joy. But with the fact that Earth's population is projected to hit 9 Billion by 2050 and most of those people are expected to live in crowded cities facing potential environmental disasters and class disparities, doomsday paranoia doesn't sound so crazy after all.

The United Nations has said that human population increases significantly in rich and developed nations with rapid economic growth. Birth Rates rise while life expectancy increases with advances in medical technology, leading to a net gain of people on the planet.

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Two years ago Bloomberg released a report stating that Indonesia's population will surpass the United States' in spite of Indonesia's economic stagnation.

During the New Order, the Keluarga Berencana (Family Planning) program was considered key to preventing high birth rates through public birth control programs that handed out the Pill and IUDs for free. But today, a rising middle class of women who are more aware of family planning don't rely as heavily on government programs.

The highly touted Keluarga Berencana program started in the late 60's and had substantial effect on Indonesia's exploding fertility rate. By the 80's, the nation had a Total Fertility Rate (TFS) above 5, which means on average, every woman in Indonesia gave birth to five children, this rate has now dropped to 2.49.

Under the guise of development, Soeharto convinced the nation that birthrate had to keep in pace with the economy, as not to end up with more people that they had jobs to employ them with. In practice the program hit some snags, especially among the Islamic radicals. To find out what is in store for Indonesia's population in the future, I spoke to Deputy of Social Statistics Division, The Indonesia Statistics Agency (BPS) M. Sairi Hasbullah.

VICE Indonesia: How do you see Indonesia population growth today and what is in store for the future?
M. Sairi Hasbullah: Actually it depends on the fertility and mortality rate. It's not just about birth, but also death, both of them have decreased. Back in 2010 Indonesia's fertility rate, the TFR number, was 2.49. TFR is the average number of babies that will be born during the lifespan of a woman between aged 15-49.

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So it means one woman in Indonesia potentially gives birth to 2.49 children. Where will that number go in the future?
The number is set to decrease in 2025, down to 2.14, and then in 2035 the number will be 2.1, and that will stabilize by 2045. It should not go lower than 2.1 after that. The point is, there will be a decrease in fertility but not by a large margin.

How about mortality rate?
Mortality rate is slowly falling and the life expectancy rate in Indonesia will continue to grow. But our life expectancy wasn't large to begin with, in 2015 the average life expectancy was 71 years old.

So considering this, what is the forecast for population growth in Indonesia?
As TFR and infant mortality rates fall, so will the population.

The Demography Institute of the University of Indonesia predicts population growth will actually decrease significantly in the next few years, what is your view on this?
My stance is that I don't deny the validity of their prediction, but I have read it and it seemed to me their rate of decrease is too steep. I think the reduction will not be as sharp as they predicted, but there will be a reduction nonetheless.

The Keluarga Berencana program oftentimes considered as key factor in lowering the birthrate. Is it still relevant today? Is the reduction of the birthrate a result of this program?
To determine whether Keluarga Berencana is a successful program actually depends on the TFR. There is a reduction, but it is important to remember that family planning becoming widespread might not be the result of government programs. Even without Keluarga Berencana, women these days usually don't want to have four or five children. For example, in western countries there's a drop in fertility rate, and it has nothing to do with the government's program. As more women realize that they can have a career,  their awareness of family planning also increases. We need to be careful in interpreting whether this is a result of the government's work or something that naturally happens with socioeconomic growth.

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Statistically speaking, how big is the impact of New Order's Keluarga Berencana program?
The TFR is falling, it was 5 to 6 at the height of the program. The change was drastic when the program was applied, especially in the 80s and 90s. Why? Because a lot of women did not have an education, and the only thing they knew about contraception was from Keluarga Berencana.

How about the current version of the Keluarga Berencana program?
For many modern women and mothers, the program is not as useful. They are already aware of the issue. However while the education level in cities is pretty high, villages still have many illiterate people. That's where it comes in handy, the program target people whose education is under the national average.

Do you think Indonesia's population with surpass that of the United States?
Indonesia's population growth is considered moderate and we have predicted that with such growth will hit 0.62 percent by 2035. It will be stable until 2045, when it will reach 0.60 percent. By then the population will reach 323 million. According to this trend, Indonesia will not surpass the United States in terms of population, at least not until 2045. We can't tell how it will be after 2045.

Populations are dropping in most highly developed nations, why do you think the United States will still be bigger?

Because United States is different from Western Europe. The population in Western Europe keeps decreasing because their TRF is below 1. In most Scandinavian countries the populations are declining. That's why Angela Merkel is insistent in welcoming more immigrants, without them the German population will keep declining while the economy keeps growing.