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Demographics of Bhutan

Table of contents
1 Bhutan's bimodal population estimates
2 Demographic Data
3 Reference

Bhutan's bimodal population estimates

One of the quirky things about Bhutan is the wide range of population numbers given for the country (see bimodal distribution). One set of numbers tends to estimate the population at around two million (e.g. the 'CIA Factbook'). Other sets of numbers center around a population estimate of approximately 800,000 (e.g. Royal Government of Bhutan census numbers given below). How can this be?

One explanation given inside Bhutan for the discrepancy is that the higher numbers ultimately trace back to an inflated population number the Bhutanese government supplied to the United Nations in the early 1970s in order to gain entry into that body (the UN reportedly had a cutoff population of one million at that time -- see micronation for justifications in support of such a minimum). According to this theory the CIA population experts have retained this original inflated number year after year while adjusting it each year for normal population growth. In this theory the current official census numbers are the best estimate.

An alternative theory is that the western and central districts of the country wish to underestimate the populations of the southern and eastern districts in order to maintain their historical dominance over those districts. This is the claim made by some Bhutanese refugee groups.

Given the remote and mountainous nature of the country (with over half the population of the country more than a day's walk from any road), given its economic and cultural isolation, and given its geopolitical insignificance, it is a bit of a puzzle as to how an accurate crosscheck of the government's number could ever be made. If anyone knows how many Bhutanese there are it's the Bhutanese, and if they're not telling then it's anybody's guess.

Demographic Data

Population: In 1999, Bhutan's population was 657,548 according to the Planning Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan. There are 125,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and India, out of which around 105,000 live in Nepal and another 20,000 in India. Thus, the total population of Bhutan was estimated at 782,548 ( 657,548 + 125,000). The World Bank's population figure for the year 2000 was 782,000.

Age structure:
0-14 years: 40% (male 417,627; female 387,927)
15-64 years: 56% (male 576,533; female 544,076)
65 years and over: 4% (male 40,081; female 38,978) (2000 estimate)

Population growth rate: 2.19% (2000 estimate)

Birth rate: 36.22 births/1,000 population (2000 estimate)

Death rate: 14.32 deaths/1,000 population (2000 estimate)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 estimate)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.03 male(s)/female
total population: 1.07 male(s)/female (2000 estimate)

Infant mortality rate: 110.99 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 estimate)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 52.4 years
male: 52.79 years

female: 51.99 years (2000 estimate)

Total fertility rate: 5.13 children born/woman (2000 estimate)

noun: Bhutanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Bhutanese

Ethnic groups: Ngalung or Drukpa 129, 068 (16.50 %); Sharchop 187,252 (23.92 %); Bumthangpa 34,309 (04.40 %); Kheng 28,553 (03.65 %); Nepali/Lhotshampa 366,224 (46.79 %); Kurteop 21,108 (02.68 %); Brokpa 4,034 (00.50 %); Lhop/Doya 2,000 (00.26 %); Adivasis 1,000 (00.13 %) Lepcha 2,000 (00.26 %); Tibetan 3,000 (00.39 %); Gongduk 2,000 (00.26 %)and Monpa 2,000(00.26 %).


Drukpa Krgyupa Buddhism 127, 068 (16.24 %); Nyngmapa Buddhism 270,222(34,53 %); Hinduism 354,224 (46.25 %); Christians 16,000(02.04 %); Tibetan Buddhism 7,000 (00.90 %) ; Animist or nature worshippers 8,034(01.02 %) Grand Total 782,548 (100.00 %). Out of 16,000 Christians, 10,000 are living as refugees in Nepal and India

Languages: Dzongkha (official), Sharchhops speak Sharshopkha or Tsangla, Bhotes speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak Nepali language.

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 42.2%
male: 56.2%
female: 28.1% (1995 est.)

People - note: refugee issue over the presence in Nepal of approximately 96,500 Bhutanese refugees, 90% of whom are in seven United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps


Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.