Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. Mongolia is larger than France, Spain, Germany and Belgium combined but has fewer than 3 million inhabitants, or an average of less than two people per square kilometer. There are fewer people living in Mongolia than live in Brooklyn and Staten island. Livestock outnumber people by roughly twelve to one.

The emptiest counties in the world (people per square kilometer) are: 1) Mongolia (1.9. or 4.4 people per square mile); 2) Namibia (2.6); 3) Iceland (3.1); 4) Australia (3.2); 5) Surinam (3.2); 6) Mauritania (3.2); 7) Botswana (3.4); 8) Canada (3.4); 9) Guyana (3.5); 10) Libya (3.4).

Some 35 percent of the residents of Ulaanbaatar and 90 percent of the people who live outside the capital live in gers. There are long stretches where there is nobody. It is possible to traverse the entire length of the country and not encounter a single man made objects.

Population: 2,992,908 (July 2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 139. Age structure: 0-14 years: 26.87 percent (male 409,994/female 394,195); 15-24 years: 17.69 percent (male 267,507/female 261,869); 25-54 years: 45.04 percent (male 653,195/female 694,688); 55-64 years: 6.29 percent (male 86,401/female 101,714); 65 years and over: 4.12 percent (male 50,372/female 72,973) (2015 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Median age: total: 27.1 years; male: 26.3 years; female: 27.8 years (2014 est.). Dependency ratios: total dependency ratio: 45.4 percent; youth dependency ratio: 39.9 percent elderly dependency ratio: 5.5 percent; potential support ratio: 18 percent (2014 est.)

Population Growth and Distribution in Mongolia

Population growth rate: 1.31 percent (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 89. Birth rate: 20.25 births/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 81. Death rate: 6.35 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 155. Net migration rate: -0.84 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 146,

In the old days, the population growth rate was relatively low because as much as 40 percent of male population men were celibate monks. Each family traditionally gave up at least one son to a monastery.

The Mongolian government has tried to boost population growth by offering financial rewards to families that have many children. Women who produced five children were awarded the “Order of the Glorious Motherhood Second Class.” Those who had more than eight were given an “Order of the Glorious Motherhood First Class.” Under the Soviets, women with more than 10 children were paid as much as a full time factory worker. Many of these incentives no longer exist.

Urbanization: urban population: 72 percent of total population (2015); rate of urbanization: 2.78 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.). The 1979 census showed that 51 percent of the population was urban, and this percentage remained unchanged through 1986. [Source: CIA World Factbook , Library of Congress]

Rural population density in the mid-1980s was highest in the well-watered regions of the north and the west and lowest in the arid and desert areas of the south and the east. The country as a whole averaged 1.36 people per square kilometer, with rural densities in 1986 ranging from 1.9 people per square kilometer in Bayan-Olgiy and Selenge aymags to 0.22 people per square kilometer in Omnogovi Aymag. The three largest cities--Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet--are in north-central Mongolia, on or near the main railroad line and the Selenge Moron or its major tributaries. Half the country's population lived in this core area, with its river valleys, productive upland pastures, coal and copper mines, and relatively well-developed transportation system. The remaining, much larger area--occupied by widely dispersed herders and by isolated administrative centers--was the economic and social periphery. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Birth Control and Sex Ratio in Mongolia

Total fertility rate: 2.17 children born/woman (2015 est., country comparison to the world: 100 Contraceptive prevalence rate: 54.9 percent (2010),

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female: 0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 1.02 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 0.94 male(s)/female; 55-64 years: 0.85 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/female; total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2015 est.).

To boost the population, the Communist government in Soviet-era Mongolia banned contraceptives and abortion. When resident Chinese laborers were expelled from Mongolia in the late 1960s as a result of the SinoSoviet conflict, their alleged offenses included the possession and the distribution of contraceptives. The ban on contraceptives was reversed after democracy was established, but still birth control is discouraged.

According to the U.S. Department of State: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. A local NGO that supports teenage mothers reported that social stigma and poor knowledge of reproductive health impeded young women’s access to prenatal care. Additionally, although reproductive health information was widely available, it was rarely produced in a format accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the Mongolian National Federation of Wheelchair Users, it was virtually impossible for women in wheelchairs to go to the hospital for prenatal checks, both because of a lack of physical access and negative attitudes. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Mongolia,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

Population of Mongolia in the 1980s and Before

Population: 2,125,463 in July 1989; in 1989, birth rate 35.1 per 1,000; death rate 7.6 per 1,000. Approximately 51 percent live in urban areas; nearly 25 percent in Ulaanbaatar in 1986. In 1987 population density per square kilometer 1.36; sex ratio 50.1 percent male, 49.9 percent female as of 1986. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Mongolia's population in the 1980s was sparsely distributed, young, and increasing rapidly. The average population density was 1.36 people per square kilometer. The annual growth rate was about 2.7 percent, which, if sustained, would double the population in 27 years. The rate of natural increase was the result of high birthrates and of death rates that were relatively low by world standards. Mongolia does not publish figures for infant mortality, but estimates in the late 1980s ranged between 49 and 53 per 1,000 birth. The population's sex ratio was nearly even, with official 1986 figures showing 50.1 percent of the total population as male and 49.9 percent as female. *

Such high population growth was one of the most striking examples of the profound transformation of traditional Mongolian society. The high growth rate dated only to the late 1950s, when the effects of improved public health and medical services were reflected in sharply reduced death rates. Despite a growth rate of under 3 percent, government statistics claimed that the population doubled between 1963 and 1988. The rate of population increase had peaked in 1960 at 3.27 percent, but it had declined to about 2.7 percent by 1989. Such a quickly growing population was necessarily a young population. In 1988 population experts in a World Bank publication projected that by 1990 72 percent of Mongolia's population would be 14 years' old and younger. *

Mongolian Government Population Policies in the Soviet Era

A larger population has been a long-standing goal of the government, which provided a series of incentives to encourage large families. A labor shortage has provided the primary overt justification for the policy, and economic aid from the Soviet Union has enabled Mongolia to meet the costs of supporting a large and economically unproductive cohort of children. Because the economy of Mongolia was to a large extent integrated with that of eastern Siberia, where the Soviet Union has suffered endemic labor shortages, encouraging the growth of the Mongolian population and labor force was in the interest of the Soviet Union. Reinforcing the policy may be a desire to ensure the survival of Mongols as an ethnic group and to boost the initially somewhat questionable legitimacy and sovereignty of the Mongolian People's Republic by occupying the land and by ensuring that key institutions and enterprises are staffed by Mongolians rather than by management imported at the behest of the Soviet Union. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

The government and the ruling party put no obstacles in the way of early marriages, and engagements and marriages among university students were common. In 1985 there were 6.3 marriages and 0.3 divorces per 1,000 people. A March 1989 Mongolian newspaper reported that every twentieth marriage broke up, that more than 15,000 mothers were receiving alimony from former husbands, and that 45,000 of the 870,000 children aged 15 and younger were illegitimate.

Childbearing was promoted as every woman's patriotic obligation, and exhortations to fecundity were backed up by a range of material incentives. Working women were granted a maternity leave of 101 days, and the Labor Law prohibited dismissal of pregnant women and of those with children younger than one year. Parents received family allowances in cash; subsidies, paid to families with more than four children younger than sixteen, could amount to as much as an average industrial wage. Women with five or more living children received the Order of Maternal Glory, Second Class, medal and an annual subsidy of 400 tugriks per child; those with more than eight children received the Order of Maternal Glory, First Class, and 600 tugriks per child. The medals entitled the mothers to all-expenses paid annual vacations of two weeks at the hot springs spa of their choice, steep discounts in fees for child care, and other benefits. Marriage and childbearing also were promoted by a special tax (of an unspecified amount) levied on unmarried and childless citizens between the ages of twenty and fifty. Full-time students in secondary schools and colleges were exempted from this tax, as were military conscripts. *

The birth needed to bring the current Mongolian population to 2 million was the occasion for national celebration in 1987. The government's Central Statistical Board determined that one of the 260 babies born July 11 (Mongolia's National Day) was the 2 millionth citizen. Twenty-five of the babies were selected as "Two Million Babies." The state awarded each of their families two new residences (probably apartments), the Children's Foundation awarded each a 5,000-tugrik subsidy (industrial wages range from an average of 550 tugriks to a high of 900 tugriks per month), and local governments and the parents' workplaces also gave gifts. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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