Based on the 1990 census, the population was 213,215. The country's population in mid-1994 was estimated at 252,077. The high 1994 birthrate of 44 per 1,000 will lead to a population of more than 300,000 by the year 2000 and 400,000 by 2020. Although the high population growth rate was a serious problem, Maldives lacks an official birth control policy. The population growth rate also poses problems for the country's future food supply because the dietary staple of rice is not grown in the islands and must be imported.
The largest concentration of Maldives' population is in Male, a small island of approximately two square kilometers, whose 1990 population of 55,130 represented slightly more than 25 percent of the national total. Giving meaningful average population density is difficult because many of Maldives' approximately 1,200 islands are uninhabited. Of the approximately 200 inhabited islands in 1988, twenty-eight had fewer than 200 inhabitants, 107 had populations ranging from 200 to 500, and eight had populations between 500 and 1,000. A government study in the mid1980s listed twenty-five places with a population of more than 1,000. Maldives has few towns besides the capital of Male. Villages comprise most of the settlements on the inhabited islands. The 1990 census recorded an average population density for the Maldives of 706 persons per square kilometer.
The first accurate census was held in December 1977 and showed 142,832 persons residing in Maldives, an increase of 37 percent over a 1967 estimate. The next census in March 1985 showed 181,453 persons, consisting of 94,060 males and 87,393 females. This pattern has continued in Maldives, with the 1990 census listing 109,806 males and 103,409 females.
Despite rapid population growth, family planning programs in Maldives did not begin in a well-funded and planned manner until the UN implemented several programs in the 1980s. These programs focused on improving health standards among the islanders, including family planning education emphasizing the spacing of births and raising the customary age of marriage among adolescents. Abortion was not a legally accepted method for child spacing in Maldives. In the mid-1980s, a World Health Organization (WHO) program monitored the extent and use of various contraceptive methods over a four-year period. As of the early 1990s, the government had taken no overt actions toward limiting the number of children per couple or setting target population goals.
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