Mongolia's population is sparsely distributed, young, and increasing rapidly. With an estimated midyear 1989 population of 2,125,463, the average population density was 1.36 people per square kilometer. The annual growth rate was about 2.7 percent, which, if sustained, would double the population in 27 years. The rate of natural increase was the result of high birthrates and of death rates that were relatively low by world standards. Mongolia does not publish figures for infant mortality, but estimates in the late 1980s ranged between 49 and 53 per 1,000 birth. The population's sex ratio was nearly even, with official 1986 figures showing 50.1 percent of the total population as male and 49.9 percent as female.
Such high population growth was one of the most striking examples of the profound transformation of traditional Mongolian society. The high growth rate dated only to the late 1950s, when the effects of improved public health and medical services were reflected in sharply reduced death rates. Despite a growth rate of under 3 percent, government statistics claimed that the population doubled between 1963 and 1988. The rate of population increase had peaked in 1960 at 3.27 percent, but it had declined to about 2.7 percent by 1989. Such a quickly growing population was necessarily a young population. In 1988 population experts in a World Bank publication projected that by 1990 72 percent of Mongolia's population would be 14 years' old and younger.
A larger population has been a long-standing goal of the government, which provided a series of incentives to encourage large families. A labor shortage has provided the primary overt justification for the policy, and economic aid from the Soviet Union has enabled Mongolia to meet the costs of supporting a large and economically unproductive cohort of children. Because the economy of Mongolia was to a large extent integrated with that of eastern Siberia, where the Soviet Union has suffered endemic labor shortages, encouraging the growth of the Mongolian population and labor force was in the interest of the Soviet Union. Reinforcing the policy may be a desire to ensure the survival of Mongols as an ethnic group and to boost the initially somewhat questionable legitimacy and sovereignty of the Mongolian People's Republic by occupying the land and by ensuring that key institutions and enterprises are staffed by Mongolians rather than by management imported at the behest of the Soviet Union.
The government and the ruling party put no obstacles in the way of early marriages, and engagements and marriages among university students were common. In 1985 there were 6.3 marriages and 0.3 divorces per 1,000 people. A March 1989 Mongolian newspaper reported that every twentieth marriage broke up, that more than 15,000 mothers were receiving alimony from former husbands, and that 45,000 of the 870,000 children aged 15 and younger were illegitimate. When resident Chinese laborers were expelled from Mongolia in the late 1960s as a result of the SinoSoviet conflict, their alleged offenses included the possession and the distribution of contraceptives. Childbearing was promoted as every woman's patriotic obligation, and exhortations to fecundity were backed up by a range of material incentives. Working women were granted a maternity leave of 101 days, and the Labor Law prohibited dismissal of pregnant women and of those with children younger than one year. Parents received family allowances in cash; subsidies, paid to families with more than four children younger than sixteen, could amount to as much as an average industrial wage. Women with five or more living children received the Order of Maternal Glory, Second Class, medal and an annual subsidy of 400 tugriks per child; those with more than eight children received the Order of Maternal Glory, First Class, and 600 tugriks per child. The medals entitled the mothers to all-expenses paid annual vacations of two weeks at the hot springs spa of their choice, steep discounts in fees for child care, and other benefits. Marriage and childbearing also were promoted by a special tax (of an unspecified amount) levied on unmarried and childless citizens between the ages of twenty and fifty. Full-time students in secondary schools and colleges were exempted from this tax, as were military conscripts.
The birth needed to bring the current Mongolian population to 2 million was the occasion for national celebration in 1987. The government's Central Statistical Board determined that one of the 260 babies born July 11 (Mongolia's National Day) was the 2 millionth citizen. Twenty-five of the babies were selected as "Two Million Babies." The state awarded each of their families two new residences (probably apartments), the Children's Foundation awarded each a 5,000-tugrik subsidy (industrial wages range from an average of 550 tugriks to a high of 900 tugriks per month), and local governments and the parents' workplaces also gave gifts.
The 1979 census showed that 51 percent of the population was urban, and this percentage remained unchanged through 1986. Rural population density in the mid-1980s was highest in the wellwatered regions of the north and the west and lowest in the arid and desert areas of the south and the east. The country as a whole averaged 1.36 people per square kilometer, with rural densities in 1986 ranging from 1.9 people per square kilometer in Bayan-Olgiy and Selenge aymags to 0.22 people per square kilometer in Omnogovi Aymag. The three largest cities--Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet--are in north-central Mongolia, on or near the main railroad line and the Selenge Moron or its major tributaries. Half the country's population lived in this core area, with its river valleys, productive upland pastures, coal and copper mines, and relatively well-developed transportation system. The remaining, much larger area--occupied by widely dispersed herders and by isolated administrative centers--was the economic and social periphery.
The Urban Population
The city system is dominated by Ulaanbaatar--a classic primate city far larger than the second-ranking or third-ranking cities--in which all important political, economic, and cultural functions are centralized. In 1986 Ulaanbaatar had 500,200 people, or nearly 25 percent of the nation's population. Its dominant position was demonstrated by the transportation system, which radiated out from Ulaanbaatar. The industrial center of Darhan, on the main railroad line north of Ulaanbaatar, had 74,000 people in 1986; Erdenet, founded in 1976 and built around a major copper and molybdenum mining complex, had 45,400. Fourth place went to Choybalsan, the industrial metropolis of eastern Mongolia in Dornod Aymag, which had 28,600 people in 1979. Fifth through tenth places were occupied by a set of aymag seats with populations in the 16,000-to-18,000 range in 1979. The lowest rung of the urban hierarchy was occupied by the headquarters of state farms or herding cooperatives, which usually featured administrative offices, primary schools with boarding facilities, clinics, assembly halls, fodder storage facilities, and the cooperative's motor pool and truck maintenance centers.
During the 1980s, the pace of urban residential construction was rapid, and an increasing proportion of the urban populace was housed in Soviet-designed, prefabricated four-story or high-rise apartment complexes. Such housing complexes--equipped with heat from central plants and served by planned complexes of shops, schools, and playgrounds as well as by bus routes--represented the zenith of modernism and progress. Many people in cities continued to live in the traditional Mongolian round felt tents called ger. Mongolians do not regard ger as backward or shameful, even in Ulaanbaatar, but urban planners considered that the much higher population densities afforded by high-rise housing would permit optimum use of often-scarce flat ground and would afford the most efficient utilization of public transportion and public utilities such as water and sewer lines.
|Country Studies main page | Mongolia Country Studies main page|