Turkmenistan has a population of 5.3 million people, making it one the least populous countries in the world. It is also one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, with only 10.5 people per square kilometer (24 people per square mile). The most densely populated areas are the southern, eastern and north-eastern oases; the least populated are in the republic's west; in central desert areas there is only one person per several square kilometers.

Most people in Turkmenistan live in: 1) around the Amu-Darya, which runs long the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border; 2) the valley around the Mugrab River in the mountains along the Turkmenistan-Iran border; and 3) the canal-fed oases between Gyzylarbat and Mary. The interior of the country is mostly unoccupied. About 50 percent of all the citizens of Turkmenistan live in urban areas. Women have traditionally had lots of kids.

In 2006 Turkmenistan’s population was estimated at 5,042,920. The annual growth rate was 1.8 percent. In 2006 some 55 percent of the population lived in rural areas. Population density, 10.3 people per square kilometer overall, varies greatly between desert areas and areas where water is available. In the first post-Soviet years (1991–95), Turkmenistan experienced a strong rate of immigration as ethnic Turkmens returned to their homeland, but by 2006 the net migration rate was –0.75 per 1,000 population. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

Population Statistics of Turkmenistan

Population of Turkmenistan: 5,231,422 (July 2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 120. Population pyramid: Dependency ratios: total dependency ratio: 48.2 percent; youth dependency ratio: 42.1 percent; elderly dependency ratio: 6.1 percent; potential support ratio: 16.4 percent (2014 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Median age: total: 26.6 years; male: 26.2 years; female: 27.1 years (2014 est.), Age structure: 0-14 years: 26.14 percent (male 692,800/female 674,638); 15-24 years: 19.66 percent (male 517,312/female 510,945); 25-54 years: 42.57 percent (male 1,104,066/female 1,122,896); 55-64 years: 7.25 percent (male 178,925/female 200,502); 65 years and over: 4.38 percent (male 99,878/female 129,460) (2015 est.).

In 2006 some 35.2 percent of the population was 14 years of age or younger, and 4.1 percent of the population was 65 years of age or older. The sex ratio was 0.98 males per female. The birthrate was 27.6 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 8.6 per 1,000 population. The infant mortality rate was 72.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. Overall life expectancy, which fell substantially in the early 2000s, was 61.8 years: 58.4 years for males, 65.4 years for females. In 2006 the fertility rate was 3.4 children born per woman. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

Population Growth, Fertility and Contraception in Turkmenistan

Population growth rate: 1.14 percent (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 104. Birth rate: 19.4 births/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 89. Death rate: 6.13 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 160. Net migration rate: -1.84 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 164.

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female; 0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 0.98 male(s)/female; 55-64 years: 0.89 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.77 male(s)/female; total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2015 est.).

Total fertility rate: 2.09 children born/woman (2015 est.), country comparison to the world: 108. Contraceptive prevalence rate: 48 percent (2006).

Turkmen have traditionally had a very high birth rate. In the the 1990s, they had an average of five children per family. The Turkmen population in 1989 was 2,718,297 million, a 34 percent increase from the 1970 population of 2,027,913 and 78 percent over the 1960 popultion of 1,525,284

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, as well as the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, and most had the means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Modern contraception was widely available to men and women, and women in most areas had access to maternity clinics that provided prenatal and postpartum care. Women in rural areas, however, had less access to contraception and maternity clinics. According to the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) 2014 State of World Population Report, 51 percent of women used some form of modern contraceptives. Due to cultural attitudes, many married women opposed the use of family planning methods; however, according to the UNFPA, there was a 13-percent unmet need for women who wanted but did not have access to family planning. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkmenistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Population of Turkmenistan in the 1990s

In 1991, the population of Turkmenistan was 3,808,900; the 1989 annual growth rate 2.5 percent; 1991 population density 7.8 persons per square kilometer. Turkmenistan's population was rather stable, with distribution between urban and rural areas and migration trends showing minor changes between censuses. The annual population growth rate, however, is rather high, and population density has increased significantly in the last forty years. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1993 Turkmenistan had a population of 4,254,000 people, making it the fifth most sparsely populated former Soviet republic. Of that number, Turkmen comprised about 73 percent, Russians nearly 10 percent, Uzbeks 9 percent, Kazaks 2 percent, and other ethnic groups the remaining 5 percent. According to the last Soviet census (1989), the total Turkmen population in the Soviet Union was 2,728,965. Of this number, 2,536,606 lived in Turkmenistan and the remainder in the other republics. Outside of the CIS, approximately 1.6 million Turkmen live in Iran, Afghanistan, and China. *

Population density increased in the republic from one person per square kilometer in 1957 to 9.2 persons per square kilometer in 1995. Density varies drastically between desert areas and oases, where it often exceeds 100 persons per square kilometer. Within Turkmenistan, the population is 50.6 percent female and 49.4 percent male. In 1995 the estimated annual growth rate was 2.0 percent, and the fertility rate was 3.7 births per woman (a decline of 1.5 births per woman since 1979). The population was demographically quite young, with 40 percent aged fourteen or younger and only four percent aged over sixty-four. *

Turkmenistan's Plan to Boost the Birth Rate

In 2008, Turkmenistan's president announced a plan he hoped would encourage a baby boom. The BBC reported: “Turkmenistan's president has announced incentives to reward women who give birth to eight or more children, according to state media. Those who qualify for Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's reward will receive a one-off payment of $250 (£125). They will also get lifetime benefits such as free dental care, utilities and public transport.[Source: BBC, March 3, 2008]

There was a large increase in child mortality under the autocratic former President Saparmurat Niyazov. Under Mr Niyazov's rule, the health system declined dramatically. Free health care was abolished, all hospitals outside the capital were closed, and thousands of health care personnel were sacked - 15,000 of them in just one day. President Niyazov did, however, declare 2003 the Year of the Mother - dedicating it to his own late mother, after whom he also renamed the month of April.

The idea of trying to stimulate a baby boom by rewarding mothers is not unprecedented; after World War II the Soviet Union awarded medals to mothers of five or more children. The scheme approved by President Berdymukhamedov follows the announcement that the government will give $10 (£5) to every woman in the country, to mark International Women's Day on 8 March.

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.

Last updated April 2016

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