First national census was conducted in 1969 and recorded the official population figure at 930,614 persons. The earlier estimates were between 300,000 and 800,000. The census of 1980 recorded population at 1,165,000. The results of the 1988 census carried exclusively for uprooting the southern Bhutanese has not been published. The 1991 is set at 1,375,400, whereas UN estimates stood at 1,451,000 people in 1988. Other foreign projections put the population of July 1991 at 1,598,216. It is likely, however, that Bhutan’s real population was less than 1 million and probably as little as 600,000 in 1990 and the government began to use the figure of “about 600,000 citizens” in late 90s.
The annual growth rate in 1990 was 2 percent, the birth rate was 37 per 1,000, and the death rate was 17 per 1,000. In 1988 UN estimated that Bhutan would have a population of 1.9 million by 2000 and 3 million by 2025 with annual growth rate of 1.8 percent. Total fertility rates stood at 6.0 in 1955 and 5.5 in 1985 and is expected to decline to 3.7 by 2005 and 2.5 by 2025. The infant mortality rate in 1990 was 137 per 1,000. The country has less female than males (97 females for 100 males). Life expectancy at birth is 55.5 years.
Population density is thirty-one persons per square kilometer. In 1970 only 3 percent of the population lived in urban settings; the percentage had increased to 5 percent in 1985 and 8 percent by 2000. Thimphu, the capital had a population of 27,000 in 1990; 2,860 of them were government employees and other 2,200 persons worked in private businesses.
Bhutan has three broad ethnic groups: the Ngalong (sometimes referred as Ngalop in official documents), the Sharchop and Nepalis. The Ngalop had migrated to the land from Tibetan in around the ninth century; for which they are often referred as Bhote (people of Tibet). They are concentrated in western and northern districts. They introduced Tibetan culture in Bhutan and hold dominant political and cultural position in present Bhutan.
The Sharchop (the word means easterner in its national language), an Indo-Mongoloid people who are believed to have migrated from Assam, Burma or Arunchal Predesh as early as 7th century, comprise most of the population of eastern Bhutan and is also claimed to be the biggest ethnic group in Bhutan.
There are Drokpa, Lepcha, and Doya tribes as well as the descendants of slaves who were brought to Bhutan from similar tribal areas in India.
Southern Bhutanese population figures ranges from mere 25 percent to 51 percent. Officially, the government stated that 28 percent of the national population was Nepalis in the late 1980s, but unofficial estimates ran as high as 51 percent. They were estimated to constitute a majority in southern Bhutan. The first small groups of Nepalis emigrated primarily from eastern Nepal during the rule of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1624. The government attempted to limit immigration and restrict residence and employment of Nepalis to the southern region throughout 20th century
Bhutan also had a sizable modern Tibetan refugee population, which stood at 10,000 persons in 1987. The major influx of 6,000 persons came in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese army’s invasion and occupation of Tibet. Another 4,200 Tibetans requested and received Bhutanese citizenship. Although Bhutan traditionally welcomed refugees–and still accepted a few new ones fleeing the 1989 imposition of martial law in Tibet–government policy in the late 1980s was to refuse more Tibetan refugees.
The official national language, Dzongkha (language of the dzong), has developed since the seventeenth century, a changed form of the Tibetan dialect spoken by Ngalop villagers in western Bhutan, primarily in Punakha Valley. In its written form, Dzongkha uses an adaptive cursive script based on chhoke.
The other languages include Sharchopkha, or Tsangla spoken in eastern districts and Nepali, or Lhotsamkha, predominantly spoken in the south. Along with Dzongkha and English, Nepali was once one of the three official languages used in Bhutan. Dzongkha was taught in grades one through twelve in the 1980s. English was widely understood and was the medium of instruction in secondary and higher-level schools.