Population Structure and Settlement Patterns
At the time of the 1981 census, the total population of Nepal was 15,022,839, the average family was made up of 5.8 persons, and life expectancy at birth was close to fifty years. As of July 1990, the population was estimated at 19,145,800 persons. The annual population growth rate increased from less than 2 percent during the 1950s to more than 2.6 percent in 1990, suggesting that despite a trend toward increasing acceptance of family planning, the program did not have much influence on reducing the population growth rate. The Central Bureau of Statistics forecast that the total population would increase to 23.6 million by 2001.
The 1981 census reveals a significant variation in regional growth rates. Although the Tarai Region's annual growth rate of 4.2 percent was much higher than the national average, the Hill and Mountain regions, respectively, posted growth rates of 1.7 and 1.4 percent. In terms of regional distribution, 43.6 percent (6,556,828 persons) of the country's population resided in the Tarai, whereas the shares of the Hill and Mountain regions totaled 7,163,115 (47.7 percent) and 1,302,896 (8.7 percent), respectively.
About 70 percent of the total population was of working age, or between the ages of fifteen and fifty-nine years. More than 65 percent of this segment of the population was considered economically active in 1981. In terms of employment structure, more than 91 percent of the economically active population was engaged in agriculture and allied activities, and the rest in the secondary (industrial) and tertiary (service) sectors, including government employment. In 1981 males and females who were widowed or separated constituted only a tiny fragment of the population--0.4 percent for each sex.
Dependency and Sex Ratios
The dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of the population in the birth to fourteen age-group, and those sixty years and older to the population in the productive age-group, that is, fifteen to fifty-nine years of age. In 1981 this ratio stood at eighty to nine. The temporal increase in the number of those in the young population group has depressed the median age of the population from 21.1 years in the mid-1950s to 19.9 years in 1981. The sex ratio in 1981, defined as the number of males to 100 females, was 105 males to every 100 females.
Fertility and Mortality
According to the estimates made by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1985, the crude birthrate was 44 per 1,000, and the crude death rate was almost 14 per 1,000. The total fertility rate, defined as the average number of children a woman might bear, was 6.3 children, with a variation between rural and urban fertility rates. The rural total fertility rate was 6.4, compared with 5.8 for urban areas. Both the crude birthrate and the total fertility rate have remained high and fairly constant for the past several decades, whereas the crude death rate has been declining consistently, thereby contributing to rapid population growth.
The most significant category of deaths was the infant mortality rate. Varying techniques for calculating infant mortality, however, have led to discrepant estimations. They ranged from more than 147 deaths per 1,000 in 1985 to between 101 and 128 per 1,000 in 1989. Infant mortality rates also varied widely among the three geographic regions, which may have been partly because of differing rates of migration and the expectancy that higher mortality rates are found in migrant families. Nonetheless, infant mortality was almost twice as high in rural areas as urban areas, a clear indication of the lack of health services in rural areas, and was high compared to many other Asian countries.
One of the major consequences of rapid population growth was the progressive deterioration of the ratio of people to land. This land shortage greatly affected Nepal's predominantly agrarian society, where land was the most important source of livelihood and social status, and it was most evident in terms of population density. In 1981 the population density was 102 persons per square kilometer of total land. Although the ratio appears to suggest a fairly low density, the figures are misleading. When density is measured in terms of persons per hectare of cultivatable land (that is agricultural density), the true nature of the human-land ratio emerges. The agricultural density in 1981 was 6.1 persons per hectare (or almost 0.2 hectare per person), which represents a very high density, especially given that the country's production technology remains in a backward state. Nepal's ability to reclaim more land in order to accommodate a rapidly growing population already had reached a maximum threshold.