spot check

Demographics of Bhutan

Bhutan's bimodal population estimates

The Royal Government of Bhutan lists their country's population as 752,700 (2003). The CIA Factbook estimates the population at 2,327,849. What accounts for this discrepancy?

One explanation given inside Bhutan is that the higher CIA 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.

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. Certainly the government numbers do not include people in the refugee camps in Nepal and other persons forced out of Bhutan, which total approximately 125,000.

The Bhutanese numbers can be reconstructed from their 9th Five Year Plan documents , which lists the exact number of households in each gewog. If the Bhutanese refugee advocate groups are correct, a spot check of a southern gewog should show a massive under-reporting of population (although this would have to be done by a non-interested party to have credibility).

Demographic data from the CIA World Factbook


2,327,849:Note: other estimates range as low as 810,000 (July 2007 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 38.6% (male 465,340/female 433,184)
15-64 years: 57.4% (male 688,428/female 647,134)
65 years and over: 4% (male 47,123/female 46,640) (2007 est.)

Median age

Total: 20.5 years
Male: 20.4 years
Female: 20.7 years (2007 est.)

Population growth rate

2.082% (2007 est.)

Birth rate

33.28 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Death rate

12.46 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Net migration rate

0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Sex ratio

At birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
Under 15 years: 1.074 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.064 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.01 male(s)/female
Total population: 1.066 male(s)/female (2007 est.)

Infant mortality rate

Total: 96.37 deaths/1,000 live births
Male: 94.09 deaths/1,000 live births
Female: 98.77 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)

Life expectancy at birth

Total population: 55.17 years
Male: 55.38 years
Female: 54.96 years (2007 est.)

Total fertility rate

4.67 children born/woman (2007 est.)


Adult prevalence rate: less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
People living with HIV/AIDS: less than 100 (1999 est.)
Deaths: NA


Noun: Bhutanese (singular and plural)
Adjective: Bhutanese

Ethnic groups

Northern Bhutanese 50%, ethnic Nepalese 35%, indigenous or migrant tribes 15%


Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the population practice Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism, both of which are disciplines of Mahayana Buddhism. Approximately one-quarter of the population is ethnic Nepalese and practice Hinduism. They live mainly in the south and follow the Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Shakta, Ghanapathi, Puranic, and Vedic schools. Christians both Roman Catholic and Protestant and nonreligious groups comprised less than 1 percent of the population. Bön, the country's animist and shamanistic belief system, revolves around the worship of nature and predates Buddhism. Very few citizens adhere exclusively to this religious group.


Dzongkha (official), Bhotes speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects


Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
Total population: 47%
Male: 60%
Female: 34% (2003 est.)


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