As the National Statistical Bureau releases the population projection officially confirming where we will stand in terms of population in the next 30 years, there was no real surprise.
Bhutan’s population is increasing, but at a slower rate. Even by 2047, we will not reach the one million mark. The reasons are obvious. Ask any married couple today if they are planning a third child. The answer probably would be “two is more than enough.” More Bhutanese young people are delaying marriage or waiting longer to have children following a trend that is global in nature.
However, the projections provide a clear picture on the Bhutanese population. If we are already experiencing a declining fertility rate, NSB projects that it will remain below the replacement level and the birth rate will decline to 11 births per 1,000 people with the annual growth rate dwindling from 1 percent to 0.3 percent in 30 years. Mortality is expected to decline with improved health service, but what is more worrying is the projected growth in the ageing group. It is projected that by 2047, the population of people above 65 years and above will more than double, from 6 percent now to 13 percent.
The details of the report besides providing valuable information for planning and policy-making, gives us much more to introspect. It will be a good basis for directing our priorities. Population dynamics does matter and we have seen it happening around the world.
On the positive side, the share of population in the working ages will rise, crossing 70 percent in the mid 2020s through the mid 2040s, yielding demographic dividends, like the NSB said. The increased working population should not go to waste. The young population represents an incredible amount of energy, but that needs to be tapped and to be channelled in the right direction.
To repeat the cliché, as a late developer, we could learn from the experiences of others. Decision makers should also note the burden on the country from the increasing aging population. It may not happen in their tenure, but the burden on the health system from an increasing elderly population can be massive.
A change we have noticed is the shrinking family size and the breaking down of the traditional family system. As more and more family become nuclear, there will be social problems. The old would need care and the young support. Today, the family support system provides the safety net to both the old and the young, unfortunately driven by economic needs, this could change. Thanks to the wisdom of our leaders, we have started nursing homes for the old and abandoned to show the way.
Another issue that draws attention is the population movement. It is estimated that 30 percent of the population will be residing in Thimphu. Half or more than that would be in the capital. Economists point out that productivity would increase and larger population would generate more wealth. But this happens only when the urban infrastructure developments keep pace with the rise in population.