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Bhutan could be plagued by steep fertility decline for the next three decades unless some interventions are in place, according to population projections the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) released yesterday. The total fertility rate has declined from 2.5 in 2005 to 1.7 children per woman during her reproductive age in 2017.

Bhutan’s population projected at 883,866 by 2047

Bhutan could be plagued by steep fertility decline for the next three decades unless some interventions are in place, according to population projections the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) released yesterday.

The total fertility rate has declined from 2.5 in 2005 to 1.7 children per woman during her reproductive age in 2017.

Projections show that the population will continue to increase but at a slower pace than in the recent past. The population was enumerated at 735,553 persons in 2017 out of which 8,408 were non-Bhutanese or tourists found in hotels on the census reference day and 727,145 were resident population.

The population of 735,553 in 2017 will increase to 896,866 in 2047 after adding the projected tourist population. The resident population will increase to 883,866 by 2047, an increase of 21.6 percent from the current level.

There will be 453,000 males and 431,000 females by 2047, with a sex ratio of 105 males per 100 females in Bhutan, a decline from the current level of 110.

Due to the declining fertility rates, the birth rate will decline substantially to 11 births per 1,000 population and the annual growth rate will fall from 0.99 percent in 2017 to 0.27 percent in 2047.

NSB official Pema Namgay said that this decline in TFR has resulted in less number of babies being born annually. It is generally accepted globally that once the fertility rate has gone below the replacement level of 2.1, it is unlikely to reverse.

“In Bhutan, fall in the growth rate of population is a concern and therefore, specific measures to lower fertility are not expected,” he said.

“In almost all the countries, it was observed that once fertility reaches a low level, it does not show any sustained rise, even in the presence of pro-natalist policies.”

Even if it is to improve, it will be marginal and will fluctuate in a narrow range. However, with the government coming up with measures to incentivise the births with maternity allowance, the TFR is expected to improve.

The share of population below 15 years will fall considerably from 26 percent to 17 percent while the 65 years and above will rise from six percent to 13 percent by 2047.

The young dependency ratio will fall from 38 percent in 2017 to 25 percent in next 30 years and the old dependency ratio will gradually increase over this period. The overall dependency ratio will fall to 41.4 percent from 2027. 

However, the silver lining of the problem is that the best time to derive the demographic dividends is yet to come.

The share of the working age population will peak at around 71 percent during the period 2027 to 2042 and thereafter it will gradually decline, which shows the window of demographic opportunity in the country.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said it is imperative that this imminent dividend is efficiently harnessed by making investments in education and by providing scope for use of the increased labour force or working age population.

At the same time, the increasing size and share of elderly population calls for developing health and social services for the aged. In particular, the health services may need to be well equipped

Likewise, with ageing of population, the median age is projected to increase to 40 years by 2047 from 26.9 in 2017 meaning half of the population in Bhutan is going to be above 40 years, which would mean increased Non-Communicable and degenerative diseases, giving more pressure on health and other social services.

Life expectancy is projected to increase from 67.6 in 2016-17 to 75.2 years in 2047 for male, and from 70.6 to 78.5 years for female.

Mortality rate is expected to fall but due to the ageing population, the crude death rate is going to maintain at around the same level as in 2017 with marginal increase to about eight deaths per 1000 population by 2047.

The age structure of the population is projected to change notably overtime. The population of children below 14 years will fall considerably from 26 percent to 17 percent, and that of those above 65 years will increase from six percent to 13 percent in the next 30 years.

Prime Minister said the country would have serious consequences should the population pyramid become inverted.

The urban population

By 2037, half the population of Bhutan will be living in urban areas. The urban population of 275,000 in 2017 is likely to increase to 502,000 in next 30 years in the country. The urbanization in Bhutan from its current level of 37.8 percent is expected to increase to 56.8 percent by 2047.

The population growth is expected to vary across dzongkhags.   The projection report reveals that about 30 percent of the population, 260,000 persons will reside in Thimphu dzongkhag by 2047. No other dzongkhags will have more than 100,000 persons.

The dzongkhag-level projections indicate that Thimphu population will increase from its current level of 138,000 to 263,000 in next 30 years.

While the size of Chukha population will not increase much, the population of Paro is likely to increase from 46,000 to 74,000 during the projection period.

The report has details at national level for 30 years and dzongkhag level for 10 years.

NSB officials said that the population projection was done to provide data for the purposes of policy formulation, socio-economic planning, service delivery, and indicators for measuring progress towards the achievement of key government targets.

The population projection, which is one of the post census technical report of the Population and Housing Census 2017, was produced with technical and financial assistance from the UNFPA.

  Tshering Palden

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