Academic journal article Population

Fertility Transition in Bhutan: An Assessment

Academic journal article Population

Fertility Transition in Bhutan: An Assessment

Article excerpt

In loving memory of my late daughter Chimi Dechen Zangmo (2011-2014) whose fleeting presence in our lives filled us with joy and happiness and was a part of Bhutan's fertility transition. She was the greatest source of inspiration and taught us the lessons of impermanence.

Tashi Dorjee

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small, landlocked country of South Asia, located in the eastern part of the Himalaya and surrounded by the Indian States of Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to the west, south and east, respectively, and the Chinese province of Tibet to the north. Due to its geographic location, its historical isolation from the international community and the small number of available data sources, very little is known about the country's demographic development (Véron, 2008). Its territory extends over about 38 thousand square kilometers and was home to a population of 635,000 according to the most recent census conducted on 30-31 May 2005 (Office of the Census Commissioner, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2006). Bhutan's population is young, with a median age of 22 years. The country's population growth has slowed down considerably, from a high of 3.1% per annum in the 1990s to 1.8% in 2005. Mortality rates have improved greatly, with a significant decrease in the infant mortality rate (IMR) from a very high level of 102.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1984 to 30 in 2012, while the under-five mortality rate fell to 37 per 1,000 live births in 2012 compared with 162.4 in 1984.(1) Although the rate of growth has declined, the population of Bhutan is expected to continue increasing in the coming decades as the population momentum will keep the growth rate positive for some time to come. Most notably known for its unique approach to development, Bhutan is the only country in the world to use Gross National Happiness to measure quality of life or social progress among its population.

The focus of this short paper is to review and examine the evidence documenting changes in fertility levels and trends in Bhutan over the last 50 years. Based on the available data sources, we study the fertility transition in the country by presenting a quasi-exhaustive list of estimates of total fertility obtained with both direct and indirect methods, and using census and sample survey data. The reconstruction of fertility levels and trends in Bhutan shows that total fertility was around 6 children per woman until the mid-1980s and fell rapidly from about 5.5 children per woman in the 1990s to close to replacement level today. We discuss the consistency of the various results in the light of the potential issues liable to affect the estimates given by each method. This short paper can be considered as laying an empirical foundation for further research on fertility change in Bhutan and, more broadly, on the demography of the country.

I. A large downward adjustment in the Bhutan population count

The figures for the total population of Bhutan diverge significantly between data sources. According to civil records for 1969,(2) Bhutan had a population of 1,035,000 persons on 1 December of that year. This figure remains difficult to assess, but is probably a gross exaggeration. Indeed, at that time, it was believed in Bhutan that unless a country had a population of more than one million, it was not eligible to join the United Nations. The 1969 population figure should therefore be understood within this context and considered as a very crude estimate of the country's population, established with a view to applying for membership of the United Nations, which Bhutan joined in 1971.

In 1990, the population of Bhutan was officially close to 1.5 million. Since then, this figure has been significantly revised, starting in the early 1990s, when a first drastic revision was made. According to the 1992 Statistical Yearbook (Central Statistical Office, 1994), the country was home to only 624,000 people. Later on, a further downward adjustment was made; only 502,000 persons were recorded as living in the country in 1992 (United Nations Statistics Division, n. …

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