The Global Professional: Demographic Change and the Rise of India

By Panagariya, Arvind | Harvard International Review, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Global Professional: Demographic Change and the Rise of India


Panagariya, Arvind, Harvard International Review


Speaking to the young and aspiring students at St. Xavier's College in Mumbai during his maiden visit to India, US President Barack Obama noted, "The United States does not just believe, as some people say, that India is a rising power; we believe that India has already risen." As the author of a recent book titled India: The Emerging Giant, I was no less delighted at the President's statement than his audience at St. Xavier's.

How are we to explain this surprisingly rapid recognition of India as a global power? No doubt, the potential of India as an economic power is the most important factor. During the last seven years, India's GDP has grown between 11 to 12 percent in real US dollars. Making the conservative assumption that the country's GDP will continue to grow 10 percent per annum in real dollars in the next fifteen years, the economy will snowball from its current size of US$1.3 trillion to US$5.5 trillion by 2025. Also relevant to the President's estimation is the recent aggressive posturing by China and increasingly acquiescent behavior of Japan. The United States now sees democratic India as the power likely to balance the future power equation in the region.

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But these factors remain partial explanations for the rise of India. A central element making India what it is today is the emergence of a highly successful educated elite. This elite forms an integral part of the ever-expanding global workforce and entrepreneurial class.

The Ubiquitous Indian Professional in the US

A key factor shaping the perceptions of India and Indians around the world, especially in the United States, has been the rise of the professional Indian--including many first-generation immigrants--in nearly every field. While the presence of Indians outside India is not new, their phenomenal success is. In the last 15 years, their influence and visibility in the technology and finance industries, higher education, and even politics have grown unlike those of any other single group.

Consider some broad facts on how Indians stack up against the general population in the United States. According to the 2009 American Community Survey, out of a total population of 307 million in the United States, 2.6 million currently report themselves as having exclusively Asian-Indian origin. Only 27.9 percent among these Indians are native born compared with 87.5 percent of the general population. This means that Indians in the United States are predominantly first-generation immigrants. Within the population group aged 25 years or more, 71 percent of Indians hold a bachelor's or higher degree compared with 28 percent of the entire population. The proportionate difference is even larger when we consider the holders of graduate or professional degrees: 39 percent among Indians compared with 10 percent of the general population.

The occupational structure and median incomes exhibit an analogous split between Indians in the United States and the US population as a whole. Among civilians aged 16 years or more and employed, 67 percent of Indians report being in "management, professional, and related occupations" compared with only 3 3 percent of the general population. Median annual income among Indian households stands at US$90,429 relative to US$50,221 among all American households. The median value of owner-occupied housing units is US$367,400 among Indians relative to US$185,200 in the general population.

Indian entrepreneurs, the vast majority having received their original training at one of the Indian Institutes of Technology, have also made their mark in the United States. According to the latest data available from the Survey of Business Owners, sales of Indian-owned firms amounted to US$88 billion in 2002. The number of these firms rose by 34 percent between 1997 and 2002 compared with 10 percent for all firms in the United States. Revenues rose 31 percent for Indian-owned firms compared with 21 percent for all firms over this period. …

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