Population and the Society
When Bhutan's first national census was conducted in 1969, the population officially stood at 930,614 persons. Before 1969 population estimates had ranged between 300,000 and 800,000 people. The 1969 census has been criticized as inaccurate. By the time the 1980 census was held, the population reportedly had increased to approximately 1,165,000 persons. The results of the 1988 census had not been released as of 1991, but preliminary government projections in 1988 set the total population at 1,375,400 persons, whereas UN estimates stood at 1,451,000 people in 1988. Other foreign projections put the population at 1,598,216 persons in July 1991. It is likely, however, that Bhutan's real population was less than 1 million and probably as little as 600,000 in 1990. Moreover, the government itself began to use the figure of "about 600,000 citizens" in late 1990.
The annual growth rate in 1990 was 2 percent. Although the wide variation in population size makes all projections flawed, experts believe that the population growth rate is valid. The birth rate was 37 per 1,000, and the death rate was 17 per 1,000. In 1988 UN experts had estimated Bhutan would have a population of 1.9 million by 2000 and 3 million by 2025. The average annual population growth rate was estimated at 1.9 percent during the period from 1965 to 1970 and 1.8 percent during the period 1980 to 1985. Rates of change were projected to increase to 2.1 percent by 1990 and 2.3 percent by 2000 and to decrease to 1.41 percent by 2025. Total fertility rates (the average number of children born during a woman's reproductive years) have declined since the 1950s, however. The rate stood at 6.0 in 1955 and 5.5 in 1985 and was expected to decline to 3.7 by 2005 and 2.5 by 2025. The infant mortality rate was the highest in South Asia in 1990: 137 deaths per 1,000 live births. Despite the declining population growth most of Bhutan's people were young. By the late 1980s, 45 percent of the population was under fifteen years of age. However, the greater number of female infant deaths resulted in one of the world's lowest malefemale ratios (97.2 females to 100 males).
Life expectancy at birth had increased significantly since the 1950s, when it stood at only 36.3 years. By the early 1980s, life expectancy had reached 45.9 years. In 1989 the UN projected that life expectancy at birth in Bhutan would reach 55.5 years by 2005 and 61.8 years by 2025, still low compared with other South Asian countries and with the other least developed nations of the world.
Overall population density was thirty-one persons per square kilometer in the late 1980s, but because of the rugged terrain distribution was more dense in settled areas. The regions in the southern Duars valleys and eastern Bhutan around the fertile Tashigang Valley were the most populous areas. As was common among the least developed nations, there was a trend, albeit small, toward urbanization. Whereas in 1970 only 3 percent of the population lived in urban settings, the percentage had increased to 5 percent in 1985. UN specialists projected the urban population would reach 8 percent by 2000. With the exception of Tuvalu, Bhutan had the lowest urban population of any country among the forty-one least developed nations of the world.
Thimphu, the capital, the largest urban area, had a population of 27,000 persons in 1990. Most employed residents of Thimphu, some 2,860 in 1990, were government employees. Another 2,200 persons worked in private businesses and cottage industries. The city advanced toward modernization in 1987 with the installation of meters to regulate water consumption, the naming of its streets, and the erection of street signs. The only other urban area with a population of more than 10,000 residents was Phuntsholing in Chhukha District.
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