At the time of independence, the population of Bangladesh was more than that of Pakistan, but now Pakistan is more populous than Bangladesh

Let’s begin by comparing the population of the two nations since before Bangladesh became independent.

Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Bangladesh

Analysis of the Data

From the data seen above, several things can be seen. Close to the time of independence (1947), the population of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) was greater than Pakistan (West Pakistan). This should not really be surprising at all. Bengal has always been one of the most heavily populated regions in South Asia. This was more or less the natural state of things.

However, we begin to see a change following the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh’s rate of population grown begins to slow down in comparison to Pakistan. By the middle of the 80s, Pakistan has overtaken Bangladesh in terms of population. This difference in the rate of growth shows as more time passes. By 2020, Pakistan has close to 55 million more than Bangladesh. That is a large gap.

Comparison of the fertility rate of Pakistan and Bangladesh

None of this should be surprising at all. Look at the fertility rates of Pakistan and Bangladesh through the years. Prior to the independence of Bangladesh, East Pakistan had a higher fertility rate than West Pakistan. This explains the higher population. Once again, it was probably natural given that Bengal has always been relatively densely populated.

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, everything changes. The fertility rate of Bangladesh starts to drop rapidly. Pakistan’s does not. According to the 2017 figures, Bangladesh has a fertility rate of 2.06. That is at replacement level. This is the ideal for any developing nation in Bangladesh’s or Pakistan’s position. Pakistan is above replacement level. Pakistan has a fertility rate of 3.56.

This means that Pakistan’s population is likely to keep on growing. While the population of Bangladesh will remain roughly the same. Pakistan’s population is expected to reach 300 million by 2050. An unsustainable number. According to a few estimates, it might even reach 400 million before this century ends if Pakistan is unable to solve the problem.

A map of the fertility rates around the world. Note that Pakistan (excluding war zones) is pretty much the only Asian nation that has such a high fertility rate. That itself says a lot.

The reason for this is pretty simple. Pakistan has failed in controlling its fertility rate. Bangladesh has succeeded. While this is a great feat by Bangladesh no doubt, it is not alone in this. Most developing nations in Asia have managed to do the same. So it is more about Pakistan’s failure than anything else.

There are several factors that have a great effect on the fertility rate:

  • Education – This is one of the most important factors in controlling the fertility rate. Bangladesh has literacy rate of 73.91%. Compare this to Pakistan’s 65%. This does not make Pakistan seem too bad in comparison. However, this is not even the worst part. The more important thing is the female literacy rate. This is where Pakistan completely fails. Bangladesh has a female literacy rate of 70.09%. Pakistan has a female literacy rate of 47%. This means that more than half of the women in Pakistan are illiterate.

Pakistan has greatly stepped up in terms of improving the literacy among the female population. However, this should have been done decades ago.

  • Religiosity – Pakistan is an extremely religious place. Religion is involved in everything, including governance. It does not exactly help matters when you have some Molvi in Pakistan who go around spreading the message that contraceptives are haram and it is the duty of every Muslim to have as many children as possible. The conservatism and extremism that followed the events in Afghanistan did not help matters at all.Generally speaking, religious conservatism and extremism are detrimental to controlling population growth. Bangladesh reigned in these elements within their society far better than Pakistan.
  • Patriarchal Society – Patriarchal societies tend to have higher fertility rates. Pakistan is an example of such a society. The culture is extremely Patriarchal and in some places women rarely even leave the house. This sort of gender inequality results in high fertility rate.

An image from the Woman’s March in Pakistan this year. When there is an event that does try to highlight some of these issues, half of Pakistan seems takes offence to it for some reason. Especially if one considers how poorly Pakistan ranks in terms of gender equality in the world.

  • Female labor force participation – This is another thing in which Pakistan fails completely. High levels of female labor force participation results in lower fertility rates. Pakistan has a female labor force participation of about 25%. Even among the educated female population, this is low. It is believed that only 25% of the women with a university degree are actually working. Bangladesh also had a similar problem in the past. However, over the last two decades they have improved in this aspect. Bangladesh as a female labor force participation of 36% and rising every year.
  • Contraception and family planning – This is something that Pakistan has greatly improved upon as well during the last decade. However, such steps should have ideally been taken four decades ago. There are still many people (rural illiterate) in Pakistan who have no idea about contraception. Nor have they heard of it. Pakistan needs to focus a lot more on spreading the idea of use of contraceptives and family planning. Ideally, it should be taught in school as part of the curriculum. But it will probably not, because of the religion factor.

For some reason, even the talk of contraception is considered a taboo topic by many.

  • Rising income and human development – Both of these depend on the economic development of a nation. This is something that Bangladesh is excelling at. Pakistan, not so much. Pakistan has improved, no doubt. Just nowhere near as much as those nations close to it. Like India or Bangladesh.Pakistan has a GDP of 278 billion USD in 2019. Compare this to Bangladesh’s 303 billion USD.

    Pakistan has a GDP per capita of 1388 USD. In comparison, Bangladesh has 2173 USD.

    Pakistan has an IHDI (Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index) of 0.386, which places Pakistan at number 120. Bangladesh has an IHDI of 0.465, which places it at number 101.

    To summarize, Bangladesh outperforms Pakistan in almost every parameter if we compare the economic development of the two nations.

GDP per capita comparison of Bangladesh and Pakistan

A world map depicting the IHDI. Note that Pakistan performs quite poorly compared to most Asian nations.

  • Conflicts – Since its independence, I don’t think that Bangladesh has really been involved in any real conflicts. On the other hand, Pakistan has. Now some of these conflicts were unavoidable (e.g. the Soviet-Afghan War). On the other hand, many were of Pakistan’s own making and pointless (Taliban, 65 War, 71 War, Kargil War).These conflicts take attention and resources away from development of the nation. Pakistan still suffers as a result of this. Pakistan has a bloated military budget. Especially if compared to Bangladesh. This results in far less resources going towards education and development.

From the Indo-Pak War of 1965. This was one of the most pointless conflicts that Pakistan ever got involved in. Pakistan was performing well economically prior to this war. All of that was abandoned for a shot at taking Kashmir. Something that failed anyways.

  • Focus on ideologies – Pakistani politics and even the people are obsessed with ideologies. Ethno-nationalism vs nationalism towards the nation. Socialism vs capitalism. Religion vs secularism. Military dictatorship vs democracy. And many others.We have had secular governments and almost theocratic governments. Civilian democratic governments and military dictatorships. Capitalist governments that sell all to the private sector and socialists who nationalize all industries.

    Pakistan is always at a battle in-between ideologies. This holds true even now. As are far too many Pakistani people. Rather than just focusing on what truly matters. Development and prosperity. Instead of switching back and forth between systems every ten years, we need to allow any one system to simply develop the nation.


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