Karachi: What the Census Tells Us

The 1998 Karachi census results have confirmed what a small group of researchers and activists have been saying all along regarding changing physical and social conditions in the city and about the fact that the socio-economic complexion of Karachi is very different from what it was in 1981. A younger generation, totally different from its parents in more ways than one, has been created. This generation belongs to the contemporary world and its nature conflicts with the culture of the Pakistani state.

How does the census support this contention in statistical terms? Karachi Division’s population has grown from 5.437 million in 1981 to 9.856 million in 1998. The rural population of the division has also increased from 4.23 per cent to 5.25 per cent. There has been a slight increase in the proportion of the female population from 45.67 per cent to 47.17 per cent. The population growth rate of the city has fallen from 4.6 per cent in 1981 to 3.5 per cent in 1998. However, in the intercensal period there has been an increase of 81.24 per cent in the population of Karachi, which means an addition of 4.418 million people. This has put an enormous strain on the existing physical and social infrastructure. The percentage of population below 15 years of age has fallen from 41.48 per cent to 37.61 per cent in the inter-census years. This reduction has taken place mainly because of a fall in the population of the age groups of zero to 4 years (from 14.36 per cent to 12.20 per cent of the total population) and 5 to 9 years (from 14.88 per cent to 12.53 per cent of the total population). This reduction has taken place in spite of the fact that there has been a substantial decrease in infant mortality rates. These changes, though not dramatic, clearly point to the adoption of family planning by an increasing number of younger Karachiites. They also point to an increasing level of awareness regarding health and social issues, especially the fall in infant mortality.

Literacy has also increased considerably and the male-female literacy gap has decreased substantially, especially in the younger generation. In 1972, 51.18 per cent and in 1981, 55.04 per cent of Karachiites were literate. In 1998, the figure was 67.42 per cent. In 1972, 45.02 and in 1981, 48.84 per cent of women were literate as compared to 62.88 per cent in 1998. The differences are far more dramatic in the age group of 10 to 14 years. In 1972, 55.59 per cent and in 1981, 55.24 per cent of this age group was literate. In 1998, this figure had increased to 74.71 per cent. In this age group 55.38 per cent of females were literate in 1981. In 1998 this increased to 74.16 per cent, almost closing the male-female literacy gap. These trends point to the importance given to education and to its availability in spite of the failures of the government in this sector and to the fact that a more equitable gender relationship is being created. Besides other repercussions, these developments are a source of stress and strain in a society which is dominated by a retrogressive state culture.

Marital status and related matters have also changed. Total married population of 15 and above has decreased from 62.08 per cent in 1981 (in 1972 this figure was 66.22) to 56.29 per cent in 1998. The decrease in the case of women is larger (from 66.06 per cent to 59.59 per cent between 1981 and 1998). Between the age group of 15 and 24 these changes are even more marked. The number of married people in this age group has fallen from 24.37 per cent to 18.58 per cent in the inter-census years. For women the fall is even greater (from 37.92 per cent in 1981 to 28.54 per cent in 1998). The divorce rate has also gone up by more than 100 per cent between 1981 and 1998. It has increased most in the age group of between 25 and 49 (by 226 per cent) and between 50 and 59 (by 323 per cent). These figures are important as they point to the erosion of feudal values, weakening of the joint family system and the assertion of individual decision making. In short, this change, along with increased literacy and a fall in the population growth rate, is a social revolution.

However, in economic terms there have been major setbacks. Employment has fallen from 33.43 per cent in 1981 to 27.58 per cent in 1998. The worst effected is the age group of 60 and above where employment has fallen from 33.25 per cent to 18.74 per cent. There has also been a substantial fall in persons employed in government service (from 6.84 per cent to 4.14 per cent) and hence in access to corridors of power. In the age group of 60 and above this fall has been dramatic (from 4.24 per cent to 1.28 per cent). This means that we need to generate jobs for our senior citizens especially since the joint family system is starting to come under stress as pointed out by statistics mentioned earlier in the text.

Karachiites are living in dramatically better environmental conditions at the micro level in spite of increasingly bad conditions at the macro level. The number of housing units has increased from 0.858 million in 1980 (when the last housing census before the 1998 one was conducted) to 1.457 million in 1998. However, rental housing has increased from 26.40 per cent of the total stock to 32.48 per cent. The number of one room houses has fallen from 44.94 per cent to 30.09 per cent of the total stock and the number of three room houses has increased from 13.96 per cent to 21.12 per cent. The number of houses with electric connections has increased from 65.78 per cent in 1980 to 93.79 per cent in 1998 and the number of homes with pipe water connections has increased from 44.45 per cent to 74.38 per cent during the same period. The number of homes with reinforced concrete roofs has increased from 42.54 per cent to 56.04 per cent during the inter-housing census years.

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