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Bhutan’s Demography

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The dominant ethnic group is of Tibetan / Tibeto-Burman ancestry; Ethnic Nepalese migrants form the majority in the southern part of the country.

The population of Bhutan, once estimated at several million, has now been officially downgraded by the Bhutanese government to 750,000, after a census in the early nineties. An extensive census done in June of 2005 resulted in a further reduction of the population figure to 554,000. The government has yet to release demographic breakdown on the new population figures. Most believe that the population was artificially inflated in the seventies because of an earlier perception that nations with populations of less than a million would not be admitted to the United Nations. Hence the United Nation population figures are much higher then the figures provided by government.

The population density, 45 per square kilometer (117/sq. mi), making Bhutan one of the most under populated countries in Asia if not the world. Roughly 20% percent of the population lives in urban areas comprised of small towns main along central valley and the southern border. This percentage is increasing rapidly as the pace of rural to urban migration has been picks up. The largest town is the capital, Thimphu, which has a population of 50,000. Other urban areas with significant population are Paro, and Phuntsholing.

Among the Bhutanese people, several principal ethnic groups may be distinguished. The dominant group are the Ngalongs, a Buddhist group based in the western part of the country. Their culture is closely related to that of Tibet. Much the same could be said of the Sharchops (“Easterners”), who are associated with the eastern part of Bhutan (but who traditionally follow the Nyingmapa rather than the official Drukpa Kagyu form of Tibetan Buddhism). These two groups together are called Bhutanese. The remaining 15% of the population is ethic Napali most of whom are Hindu.

The national language is Dzongkha, one of 53 languages in the Tibetan language family. The script, here called Chhokey (“Dharma Language”), is identical with the Tibetan script. The government classifies 19 related Tibetan languages as dialects of Dzongkha. Lepcha is spoken in parts of western Bhutan; Tshangla, a close relative of Dzongkha, is widely spoken in the eastern parts. The Nepali language is widely spoken in the south. In the schools English is the medium of instruction and Dzongkha is taught as the national language. Ethnologue lists 24 languages currently spoken in Bhutan, all of them in the Tibeto-Burman family, except Nepali, an Indo-Iranian language. The languages of Bhutan are still not well-characterised, and several have yet to be recorded in an in-depth academic grammar. English now has academic status as well.

The literacy rate is only 42.2% (56.2% of males and 28.1% of females). People 14 years old and younger comprise 39.1%, while people between 15 and 59 comprise 56.9%, and those over 60 are only 4%. The country has a median age of 20.4 years. Bhutan has a life expectancy of 62.2 years (61 for males and 64.5 for females) according to the latest data from the world bank. There are 1,070 males to every 1000 females in the country.