Tajikistan has a population of only 8.2 million people. It is also sparsely populated, with only around 59.7 people per square kilometer (about 150 people per square mile). During the Tajikistan civil war in the 1990s a lot of people fled the country. Since the end of the war many returned. The population density is much higher in the north (50 to 150 people per square kilometer), with many people concentrated in the Fergana Valley area, than in the south (5 to 15 people per square kilometer), which is dominated by the Pamir mountains. The population is concentrated in fertile valleys. The number of families with many children in the 1990s was six times that of 1920.

Population: 8,191,958 (July 2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 97. population pyramid:; Dependency ratios:; total dependency ratio: 64.3 percent; youth dependency ratio: 59.1 percent; elderly dependency ratio: 5.2 percent; potential support ratio: 19.2 percent (2014 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

In 2006 Tajikistan’s population was estimated at 7,320,815 people. The growth rate was 2.19 percent per year. The average density was 51.3 people per square kilometer, but the population was concentrated heavily in the western, southwestern, and northwestern regions. Some 30 percent of the population was classified as urban, the lowest percentage among the former Soviet republics. In 2006 an estimated 700,000 Tajikistanis, mostly men, spent some or all of the year as migrant workers in Russia and other countries, creating a significant male- female imbalance in the adult population. In 2006 the net migration rate was about –2.5 per 1,000 population. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007]

Demography of Tajikistan

Tajikistan's population has been characterized as primarily rural, with a relatively high birth rate and substantial ethnic tensions. Substantial forced relocation has occurred, first as a result of various Soviet programs and then because of the civil war. By the time Tajikistan became independent, its social structure reflected some of the changes that Soviet policy had consciously promoted, including urbanization, nearly universal adult literacy, and the increased employment of women outside the home. However, the changes were not as far-reaching as the central government had intended, nor did they take the exact form the government wanted. Tajikistan's cities grew, but the republic remained predominantly rural. More women had wage-paying jobs, but society still held traditional women's roles in higher regard. Tajikistan had an especially high birth rate and the highest rate of population increase of all the former Soviet republics. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Median age:; total: 23.5 years; male: 23 years; female: 24 years (2014 est.). Age structure:; 0-14 years: 32.75 percent (male 1,365,565/female 1,317,285); 15-24 years: 19.7 percent (male 818,661/female 795,125); 25-54 years: 39.26 percent (male 1,590,051/female 1,626,091); 55-64 years: 5.1 percent (male 191,688/female 226,134); 65 years and over: 3.19 percent (male 109,084/female 152,274) (2015 est.). =

In 2006 some 37.9 percent of the population was 14 years of age or younger, and only 4.8 percent was 65 years of age or older. The birthrate was 32.6 births per 1,000 population. The death rate was 8.3 per 1,000 population. In the early 2000s, estimates of the infant mortality rate have varied widely, from 54 to 111 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to differing standards of calculation. In 2006 overall life expectancy was 64.9 years: 62 years for males, 68 years for females. The fertility rate, four children per woman, was the highest among the former Soviet republics. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 ]

According to the 1989 census, Tajikistan's population was overwhelmingly young and 50.3 percent female. People under age thirty made up 75 percent of the population; people under age fifteen were 47 percent of the total. Approximately 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, making Tajikistan the least urban of the former Soviet republics. In the 1990s, average life expectancy was 64.2 years (lower than it was in the Soviet era).

Population Characteristics of Tajikistan

The 1970 census showed a population of 2,899,602. Overall, the rate of growth, which averaged 3.1 percent per year in the 1970s, rose to an annual average of 3.4 percent in the 1980s. According to the last Soviet census, taken in 1989, Tajikistan's population was 5,092,603. Since that time, no reliable estimate has been available; however, in the 1990s conditions in the country seem likely to preclude continuation of the rapid population increases of the 1970s and 1980s. The main factor in that change is the civil war and its repercussions: an estimated 50,000 dead, extensive shifting of populations within Tajikistan, heavy emigration, and a decreased birth rate caused by political turmoil and a plummeting standard of living. The birth rate was estimated at 3.0 percent in 1992. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Tajikistan's population is concentrated at the lower elevations; 90 percent of its inhabitants live in valleys, often in densely concentrated urban centers. In mid-1991, the overall population density for the republic was 38.2 persons per square kilometer, but density varied greatly among the provinces. In the northern Khujand Province, the density was 61.2; in the two southern provinces of Qurghonteppa and Kulob (which, at the time of the census and again after the civil war, merged into a single province, Khatlon), 71.5; in those districts not part of any province, including Dushanbe, 38.9; and in the easternmost jurisdictions, the mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, whose borders encompass more than 40 percent of Tajikistan's territory, only 2.6.

The mountain areas, which never have been densely populated, lost many of their inhabitants beginning in the 1930s through a combination of voluntary migration in pursuit of better opportunities, forced relocations to the lowlands, and the destruction of villages for construction of Soviet-sponsored hydroelectric dams. This pattern reversed partially after 1992, as people fled to the mountains to escape the civil war.

Births, Mortality and Population Growth in the Soviet Era

Birth and Mortality Rates and Natural Population in the Soviet Union (per 1000 of population): births in 1940: 31.2; births in 1960: 24.9; births in 1986: 20.0; deaths in 1940: 18.0; deaths in 1960: 7.1; deaths in 1986:9.8; population growth in 1940: 13.2; population growth in 1960: 17.8; population growth in 1986: 10.2. [Source: Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR za 70 let (Moscow: Finansy i statistika, 1987), pp. 406–9.

Birth and Mortality Rates and Natural Population in the Russia (per 1000 of population): births in 1940: 33.0; births in 1960: 23.2; births in 1986: 17.2; deaths in 1940: 20.6; deaths in 1960:7.4; deaths in 1986: 10.4; population growth in 1940: 12.4; population growth in 1960: 15.8; population growth in 1986: 6.8.

Birth and Mortality Rates and Natural Population in Uzbekistan (per 1000 of population): births in 1940: 33.8; births in 1960: 39.8; births in 1986: 37.8; deaths in 1940: 13.2; deaths in 1960: 6.0; deaths in 1986: 7.0; population growth in 1940: 20.6; population growth in 1960: 33.8; population growth in 1986: 30.8.

Birth and Mortality Rates and Natural Population in Tajikistan (per 1000 of population): births in 1940: 30.6; births in 1960: 33.5; births in 1986: 42.0; deaths in 1940: 14.1; deaths in 1960: 5.1; deaths in 1986: 6.8; population growth in 1940: 16.5; population growth in 1960: 28.4; population growth in 1986: 35.2.

Population Growth, Fertility and Sex Ratio in Tajikistan

Population growth rate:; 1.71 percent (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 69. Birth rate: 24.38 births/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 56. Death rate: 6.18 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 157. Net migration rate: -1.15 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 152. =

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female; 0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 1.03 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 0.98 male(s)/female; 55-64 years: 0.85 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female; total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2015 est.).= Gender ratio in Tajikistan and the Soviet Union as a Whole, 1988: females per 100 males: 112 in the Soviet Union; 101 in Tajikistan. [Source: Sotsialnoe razvitie SSSR (Moscow: Finansy i statistika, 1990), pp. 27, 38, 47, 235; Narodnoe khoziaistvo Tadzhikskoi SSR v 1988 godu (Dushanbe: Irfon, 1990), pp. 21, 24, 31, 108 ||||]

Total fertility rate: 2.71 children born/woman (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 71. Contraceptive prevalence rate: 27.9 percent (2012). = Fertility rate in Tajikistan and the Soviet Union as a Whole, 1988: 2.67 in the Soviet Union; 5.68 in Tajikistan. ||||

Tajiks have the highest birthrate in Central Asia and were the fastest growing major ethnic group in the Soviet era. The number of Tajiks in the Soviet Union increased by 200 percent between 1959 and 1989. Families remain large. It is not unusual for a married couple to have seven or eight children.

High Birthrate and Birth Control in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The government did not interfere with the rights of individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Traditional stereotypes prevented women and girls from obtaining information on reproductive health. According to the Ministry of Health, approximately 30 percent of women between ages 15 and 49 used modern forms of contraception, and skilled personnel attended almost 92 percent of births. The ministry also reported that approximately 93 percent of women received postpartum care. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

In the last two decades of the Soviet era, Tajikistan had the highest birth rate of any Soviet republic. Average family size in the republic, according to the 1989 census, was 6.1 people, the largest in the Soviet Union. The average Tajik woman gave birth to between seven and nine children. The average annual population growth rate for rural Tajikistan in the 1970s and 1980s was higher than the rate for urban areas. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The two main causes of Tajikistan's growth pattern were the high value placed by society on large families and the virtual absence of birth control, especially in rural areas, where the majority of the population lived. Women under the age of twenty gave birth to 5.1 percent of the babies born in Tajikistan in 1989, and a relatively high proportion of women continued to have children late into their child-bearing years. According to the 1989 census, 2 percent of all the babies born in Tajikistan were born to women between the ages of forty and forty-four; 81 percent of those babies had been preceded by at least six other children. *

In the late 1980s, the Soviet government reacted to the high birth rate by encouraging family planning. The plan failed because of poor promotion of the pronatalist policy in the European republics of the union, inadequate birth control methods, and the Tajiks' traditional admiration for large families and opposition to birth control. In rural areas, the inadequacies of health care and the reluctance of women to undergo gynecological examinations contributed to the failure of family planning prior to independence. *

Languages in Tajikistan

The official state language is Tajik, which is related to Persian. Russian is widely used in government and business. Different ethnic groups speak Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Pashto. Uzbek is the main language of about 25 percent of the population. Variants of Tajik are spoken in the mountains of the autonomous province of Gorno– Badakhshan, Tajikistan’s eastern region. [Source: CIA World Factbook, Library of Congress]

In the 1990s, it was estimated Tajik was spoken by 62 percent of the population. Russian is a second language for most of urban non-Russian population. But otherwise Russian is not widely spoken. Some Tajiks speak only little Russian or none at all. Russian is more widely spoken among intellectuals and those involved in business and trade. Many people also speak Uzbek.

The further one travels outside of Dushanbe and Khujand, the sharper the decline in those persons speaking Russian. In the countryside, particularly in Kurgan-Tyube and Leninabad, much of the rural population speaks Uzbek as well as Tajik.

Approximately 36 percent of the population and most business persons and government officials speak Russian. Sebastien Peyrouse wrote: “In Tajikistan, despite large-scale Russian emigration, the Russian military presence combined with the strong economic bonds linking the country to Russia contributes to the maintenance of policies favorable to the Russian language. The Constitution of 1994 defines Tajik as the state language and grants Russian the status of interethnic language of communication. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

Names: Women keep their family name after they get married.

Tajik Language

The official language of Tajikistan is Tajik, a dialect of Persian similar to Farsi and Dari. The standard Tajik dialect is mutually intelligible with Persian speak in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan and is close enough to these languages that some call it Farsi-Tajiki. Tajik, Farsi and Dari all belong to the Iranian language family, which in turn is a member of the Indo-European language grouping, which includes English.

Tajik was given a standard literary form and a standard alphabet by the Soviets. The Tajiks' language, which they traditionally had called Persian (Farsi), was relabeled Tajik by the Soviets. Major Persian-language writers were called Tajiks, even if they had not used that term to describe themselves and had not lived in Central Asia. Tajik, like the other Central Asian languages, underwent a two-stage alphabet reform by order of the Soviet regime. First, the Arabic alphabet was abandoned in 1929 in favor of the Latin. Then, in 1940 Moscow declared Cyrillic the official alphabet of the Tajik language.

Tajik swear words and English translations: Haromi: Son of the bitch!; Oyeta gom: I'll fuck your mother; Dadeta gom: I'll fuck your father; Megom: I'll fuck you; Kunatba keram: I'll fuck u in the ass; Kerama khor: Eat my dick; Kusatba gom: I'll fuck u in vagina; Kus: Vagina; Ker, Dingil: Dick, cock; Gozama khordi: Get laid; Goygoy: Sexual act; Goysem: I am fucking. [Source: myinsults.com myinsults.com]

Tajik Dialects

There are more than 20 major Tajik dialects of which standard Tajik is only one. Most dialects are specific to a specific area and differ from one another morphologically and phonetically. Some of the dialects are so different that urban Tajiks, who speak mostly standard Tajik, have difficulty making out what Tajiks in the mountains valleys are saying.

The Pamiri Tajiks have developed a distinct culture due to their isolation in the mountains. The dialects they speak vary greatly from valley to valley and are often as different from one another as Spanish is from French and although related to Tajik often have more in common with ancient Iranian languages like Sogdian, Bactrian and Saka. Because the languages and dialects are so different from one another and from Tajik, the Dari language of Afghanistan and the Western Iranian Farsi of India often serve as lingua francas.

The majority of Tajik people in China speak Sarikoli dialect while the minority speaks the Wakhi dialect. Both Sarikoli and Wakhi belong to the Pamir language group of the Eastern Iranian language group. Many Tajik people can speak the languages of Uyghurs and Kyrgyz, as members of these groups live near them. Tajiks in China have traditionally used the Uyghur script. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

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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