Mortality, fertility, and population growth in historical Tibet

Short paper
By Thomas Spoorenberg

Little is known about Tibet’s population development before 1950. Because of this lack of data, claims of a decline or an increase in the Tibetan population remain heavily influenced by political considerations. According to two studies based on local data, demographic characteristics in Tibetan villages before the 1950s would have favoured a small population increase. This analysis examines whether the evidence for the whole Tibetan population in China supports a similar conclusion. Prior to 1950, around 4 out of 10 Tibetan children would die before reaching age 5, corresponding to a life expectancy at birth of about 32 years. Fertility oscillated between 4.5 and 5.0 children per woman. The combination of these demographic estimates shows that the level of fertility was sufficient to overcome the potential for high mortality to cause a population decline. The demographic evidence examined for the whole Tibetan population in China supports the view that the Tibetan population was increasing before 1950 and corroborates the conclusions based on local data.

  • Tibet
  • China
  • mortality estimation
  • fertility estimation
  • population growth
  • historical population
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