Relative fertility between Hindus and Muslims is an ongoing area of confusion.
A myth exists that polygamy is more common (or was, as at 1971) among Muslims than among Hindus. This is (or at least was not) true. Thus, I wrote on the online notes of BFN:
 “A study (1971) shows that percentage incidence of polygynous marriages (where a man has more than one wife) is 5.80 per cent among Hindus. The incidence among Muslim is in fact slightly lower at 5.73 per cent. The incidence of polygynous marriages is highest among certain tribes (15.25 per cent) followed by Buddhists (7.97) and Jain (6.72 per cent).” Census of India 1971, “Polygynous Marriages in India: A Survey”, Miscellaneous Studies, Monograph No 4, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, New Delhi. From an article at  Interview by Rashme Sehgal for InfoChange News & Features, November 2004. See
Relative population growth rates
There are a vast number of factors that affect population growth, with religious belief being a very small or insignificant factor, once relevant variables are controlled. That was the key finding of my doctoral research.
I had discussed some of these issues many years ago on the indiapolicy debates. Unfortunately, an article that I wanted is no longer available on the Harvard University website. I’m therefore re-publishing it here (I haven’t been able to recover its original paragraph formatting) – for my personal convenience.
Please note, thought, that by re-publishing it here I'm NOT ENDORSING everything this article says! I use a much more complex analysis of factors to discuss population issues. Must studies of population are flawed, being grounded in simplistic analysis, and this one is not exempt from many flaws. However, some interesting facts that are presented here.
The Chimera of a Muslim Population Growth Rate by Dr. Mohan Rao (Dr. Mohan Rao, Associate Professor & Chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
That the Muslim rate of population growth is as much a chimera as the Hindu rate of economic growth does not bother propagandists during election time. This is an issue they have flogged often enough in the past. The issue is the "Muslim rate of population growth" made topical now by the publication of selected data from the 1991 Census. For what is being attempted is not to understand realities – the basis of all social sciences – but to project a fractured view of it for purely political purposes.
Preliminary results from the 1991 Census indicate that, excluding Assam and Jammu & Kashmir, the rate of growth of the Muslim population has been 32.8 per cent, whereas that of the Hindu population has been 22.8 percent. However, these data on growth rates by religious communities is not cross- tabulated with their determinants: income and literacy for a start.
The exercise then is as meaningless as comparing the size of a lemon with that of an apple merely because both happen to be fruit. The basic organised propaganda regarding a Muslim rate of population growth rests on the following four assertions, which are, as it were, articles of faith: The law permits a Hindu male to have only one wife. A Muslim male, on the other hand, is allowed to have and tends to have more than one wife. Islam, unlike Hinduism, forbids family planning. Muslims, therefore, do not practice family planning. Muslims thus have a higher birth rate than Hindus. Therefore it follows that Muslims will soon outnumber Hindus in India. However, what do facts brought out by official and non-sectarian agencies have to tell us?
Let us look at the data on marriages– called nuptiality rates. The incidence of polygynous marriages (i.e. one wherein a man has more than one wife) is 5.80% among Hindus. The percentage incidence among Muslims is, in fact, slightly lower at 5.73 per cent. These figures are from the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India and are to be found in the publication Polygynous Marriages in India – A Survey.
What the data clearly reveals is that there is absolutely no truth to the commonly propagated assertion that bigamy or polygamy is commoner among Muslims. Indeed the Census Commissioner and Registrar General state "In India as a whole the incidence of polygynous marriage is highest among the persons returning their religion as tribal religion (15.25 per cent), next come the Buddhists (7.97 per cent) followed by Jains (6.72 per cent)". What the data clearly reveals is that of all these religious groups, Muslims have the lowest incidence of polygynous marriages. What is equally important to bear in mind is that a high incidence of polygynous marriages does not serve to increase fertility – as is commonly propagated. Given the fact that the sex ratio (i.e. the number of females per thousand males which is considered a reflection of women's status in society) in India is highly unfavorable to females amongst both Hindus and Muslims, more than one female marrying one male is not likely to increase fertility; on the contrary it is likely to have a fertility depressant effect in both these communities. Religious Sanction of Family Planning Similarly, there is no truth to the assertion that Islam forbids acceptance of family planning. In a study entitled "Is Islam Against Family Planning?",
Khan points out that the Koran does not forbid family planning. What the Koran does prohibit are abortions and sterilisations but even these are permitted on health grounds. Let us also note that the proportion of couples using contraceptives in predominantly Muslim countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Egypt is very high. In India, the percentage of Muslims practicing family planning has gone up significantly: 40.7 per cent among Muslim women as revealed by Family Planning Practices in India: Third All India Survey brought out by the Operations Research Group in Baroda in 1990.
Strikingly, this percentage has gone up more than proportionately among Muslims from a figure of 23 per cent in the second All India Survey conducted a decade earlier.
The growth rate of the Muslim population is higher, since the birth rate amongst Muslims is marginally higher than among Hindus. But this is neither the total nor the real picture. Consider, for example, the data on fertility by religion provided by the Vital Statistics Division. It indicates that the difference in the total fertility among religious groups is less than that between the rural and urban populations. The total fertility rate for Hindus in rural areas is 5.7 while in urban areas it is 4.2. For rural Muslims it is 6.2 while for urban Muslims it is 4.9. Christians have the lowest total fertility rate (TER) of 4.4 in rural areas and 4 in urban areas. For the population as a whole, it is 5.8 in rural India and 4.3 in urban India.
This clearly means that other factors are more important than religion in explaining differentials in fertility. The same document provides extremely interesting data on fertility in relation to monthly per capita expenditure. With a per capita monthly expenditure of Rs. 21 to Rs. 50, the total marital fertility rate among Indians is 6.8 in both rural and urban areas. With a rise in monthly per capita expenditure to Rs. 51 to Rs 100, the total marital fertility declines to 5.8 for rural populations and 4.3 for urban homes. At a monthly per capita expenditure of Rs. 101 and above, the total marital fertility rate drops to around 2.5 for both rural and urban populations. The data, then clearly indicate that decline in fertility is associated with, among other factors, increasing income. It is thus more than likely that the marginally higher fertility among Muslims reflects their relatively lower socio-economic standing.
Indeed, this is substantiated by a host of findings by the national Sample Survey Organisation during the course of the 43rd Round which were published in 1990. This shows that in urban areas 47 per cent of Hindus are employed in relatively secure, salaried, occupations in the organized sector, in contrast to 29 per cent among Muslims. The majority of Muslims, around 53 percent, are self employed. The figure among Hindus is 35.9 percent. The self-employed are those whose households constitute both units of production and consumption. The salaried have households which are units of consumption alone. And it is a well recognized demographic fact that such households (viz. the self-employed), given their low levels of technical skills and income, have a larger size.
The same NSS also provides data on monthly per capita expenditures by religion and rural/ urban residence. This reveals that close to 53 per cent of Muslims have a monthly per capita expenditure of less than Rs. 160. The corresponding figure among Hindus is 36 per cent. In the highest per capita monthly expenditure group of more than Rs. 310, the proportion of Hindus was 22 percent while that of Muslims was only 10 percent. Indeed an earlier study in urban India – where the majority of Muslims live – conducted by the NSSO concluded that: 'Muslims in urban India are about 20 per cent below average in per capita monthly expenditure which makes them nearly as poor as the SC and ST (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe) communities. In contrast, the average per capita expenditure for other religious groups (Jains, Parisis, Christians, Sikhs, etc.) taken together is about 18 per cent above that for the general population in the urban sector of India as a whole.
Socio-economic Determinants of Fertility
It is well known that acceptance of family planning – and perhaps birth rates – is dependent upon a host of socio-economic factors. Some of the major ones are income, occupation, education and skills, access to technology, child survival, the economic value of children and security in old age. The significance of these lend further credence to the possibility that the Muslims have a marginally higher birth rate because they are relatively more disadvantaged in all these areas. Data from the 43rd Round of the NSS, referred to earlier, substantiate this point. With reference to literacy, data reveals that in rural India, 51 per cent of Hindu males are illiterate. The figure for Muslim males is 58 per cent.
The contrast is even more striking for urban India: 25.3 per cent of Hindu males are illiterate while among Muslim males the proportion is a significantly higher 42 per cent. Policy planners place a great deal of emphasis on female education and employment as a means of reducing population growth. The NSS data reveals that in urban India, an astonishing 42 per cent of Hindu females and 60 per cent of Muslim females are illiterate. Graduates constitute merely 4 per cent among Hindu females and a negligible 0.8 per cent among Muslim females. The illiteracy rates are, of course, much higher among women in rural India although there the difference by religion is not very marked. School enrolment rates and school continuation rates, at all ages in both urban and rural India, are significantly lower among Muslims than among Hindus. The differences are most glaring among females. Data on work participation rates reveals that they are substantially lower among females than among males. The female work participation rate among Muslims females in urban India is the lowest at 11.5 per cent. In rural
India, it is 19.6 among Muslim females and 33.7 among Hindu females. What we must remember, above all, is that neither Hindus nor Muslims are undifferentiated, homogenous, communities and that we do not have data on demographic indicators and their determinants among comparable sections of these communities.
Will Muslims Outnumber Hindus?
Yet another myth that has been propagated is that given the higher growth rate among Muslims in India, they will soon outnumber Hindus. A study looks into this issue. The study projects the prevailing growth rates among Hindus and Muslims into the next century. The Hindu population increased by 23.71 percent between 1961-71 and by 24.71 per cent between 1971-81. This is an increase of 0.71 per cent points. The Muslim population increased by 30.85 and 30.20 during the corresponding periods. This constitutes an increase of 0.05 per cent points, which is much less than that of Hindus. Assuming the same rate of increase into the future, Bhatia found that in a hundred years from 1981, ie; year 2081, Hindus and Muslims would record a decade growth rate of 30.71 and 30.55 per cent, respectively. In other words, the growth rates of Hindus will be higher than that of Muslims. It is simply not true then, that Muslims will outnumber Hindus in India. [NOTE: I think this is really poor way of thinking about this issue. The reality of population growth is far more complex – see my dissertation!
Further, data clearly indicate that there has been a decline in fertility among all communities in both rural and urban areas. Between 1971 and 1981 the general marital fertility for the Indian population declined by 19.2 percent in rural India and 20.1 percent among Hindus in rural and urban India respectively. The percentage decline among Muslims was 17.3 and 18.5 in rural and urban India respectively. Among Christians the decline was sharper at 31.2 per cent and 26.4 percent. This data is also from the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India and are to be found in the publication Census of India, 1981, Series I, part II.
What the data strikingly reveals is that there has been a significant decline in the fertility of the Muslim community in both rural and urban areas; the decline in the fertility among Hindus is only marginally higher. The trend in fertility among the two communities is however, similar. What this points to is the task ahead of bringing about socio-economic development in the country as a whole and including her largest minority population. If facts are rationally examined, the inescapable conclusion is that religion is not the primary and determining factor in population growth. The Hindutva propaganda only indicates that there is something frighteningly post-modern about them, and that is the total disdain for science and scientific inquiry. Indeed, all fascistic enterprise have this in common, appealing to the most chauvinistic, atavistic urges among the people. The attempts to imbue demography with religion is clearly guided by the same dangerous motives.
1.Census of India, 1971, Series, 1. Miscellaneous Studies, Monograph no.4, New Delhi, 1991.
2.Khan, M.E. (Ed). 1978. Birth Control Amongst Muslims in India. New Delhi: Mahohar Publications.
3.Ministry of Home Affairs. 1976. Fertility Differentials in India. New Delhi.
4.Bhattacharya, et al. 1986. "Disparities in level of living Across States and Social Groups in Urban India During 1973-74". Savekshana, journal of the NSSO, Vol. 10, No. 2.
5.Government of India . 1980. Planning Commission Report of the Working Group on Population Policy. New Delhi.
6.P.S. Bhatia. 1990. "Population Growth of Various Communities in India: Myth and Reality," Demography India. Vol. 19, No. 1, January.