6 surprises from Pakistan’s 2017 census that should worry govt

6 surprises from Pakistan’s 2017 census that should worry govt

A Pakistan Bureau of Statistics official marks a Karachi residence after collecting data March 15, 2017. Photo: AFP

This May the government finally reached a point where it could say that its sixth population count could be considered final. The country had 207,000,000 people.

The government had started this exhaustive exercise five years ago, in 2017. A country should ideally count its population every ten years. But Pakistan’s last census was held in 1998. So not only was the actual census delayed, the government took another five years to come around to finalizing its result.

When the initial numbers came out for the Population and Housing Census 2017 there were many objections from political parties and other stakeholders. The matter landed in the lap of the Council of Common Interests, which is the government body that tackles disputes in power sharing. On May 24, 2021, the council declared that the results of the sixth Census were final.

Here are 6 interesting things to know about the new census:

1.      Pakistan’s population has risen sharply since the last census

By 2017, about 75 million people were added to Pakistan’s population of 132 million as measured in the last census in 1998. This can be calculated as a 57% growth in population between the two census (demographers call this intercensal growth).

It translates into an annual growth rate of 2.4% over a span of 19 years.
Pakistan’s population has been increasing at higher and higher rates. From 1972 to 1998, in a span of 26 years, some 67 million people were added to Pakistan’s population, and 75 million were added in the next 19 years (between 1998 and 2017).

And so, the intercensal growth sharply rose between 1981 and 1998 (57%). In just 17 years, 48 million people were added to the population.

2.      Islamabad’s population has shot up the most

According to Census 2017, Punjab increased from 73.6 million in 1998 to 110 million in 2017. This is the lowest growth among all provinces and regions and below the national average.

Sindh came second with 47.9 million people in 2017.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Islamabad grew substantially.
KP’s population grew from 17.7 million to 30.5 million.
Balochistan from 6.6 million in 1998 to 12.3 million in 2017.

The Islamabad Capital Territory recorded the highest population growth in the country with a 4.8% intercensal annual growth rate from 0.8 million to 2 million from 1998 to 2017.

3. Pakistan has become more female

Census 2017 says that 19 administrative units have more women than men whereas, in 1998, eleven districts had more women.

Pakistan’s administrative structure is spread over four provinces and 132 districts like this:

KP is seven divisions and 34 districts

Balochistan is seven divisions and 33 districts

Punjab is nine divisions and 36 districts

Sindh is seven divisions and 29 districts

In 1998, Punjab had four women-dominant districts but by 2017, this had doubled. In 1998, KP had six which grew to nine administrative units.

The women could have been counted better this census. Or we could have seen a change in attitudes. Perhaps households were more comfortable disclosing how many women they had. The numbers  could have also gone up if more males had migrated out. Alternately, women could have grown more financially independent.

Either way, the numbers of women have been increasing at a noticeable rate. The intercensal growth of the total female population between 1998 and 2017 is higher (59.5%) than men’s (54%).

4.      We are 39m young people

In 1998, we had 24,987,381 youth across Pakistan. The Census of 2017 tells us that with the addition of another 14,855,223, this demographic between the ages of 15 and 24 years is now 39,842,604.
In simple words, the percentage of Pakistan’s young people was 18.8% in 1998 and in 2017 it moved upward to 19.19%.

5.      Literacy rates went up

If you were literate in 2017 it meant you can read and understand simple text in any language from a newspaper or magazine, write a simple letter and perform basic math. In the last census, however, a person was called literate if they could read a newspaper or journal and write a simple letter in any language.

The good news is that despite a relatively more demanding definition, Pakistan has grown more literate since its last census.
In 1998, we were 43.92% literate and this rose to 58.92% by 2017.
Balochistan made a leap forward from 24.83% in 1998 to 43.58% in 2017.

6. Sindh’s numbers didn’t move?

Sindh’s population was 23% of the total population in 1998—but magically it is still 23% in 2017!
The new census said Sindh has 47,850,000 people.
But beneath this statistical steadfastness, a sea change has taking place. In terms of percentages, the share of those who have mentioned Urdu as their mother tongue in the two censuses of 1998 and 2017 is declining. The same holds true for those who said Punjabi was their first language. Sindhi, Pashto and Seraiki speakers have shown an increase in percentage share.

Three of these changes should shake up government planners, social scientists and academics: the narrowing of the gender gap, an increase in the young population and an increase in literacy. These three variables alone are makers of a transformation in the social order (the stable pattern of social expectations and structures in any society).

With more women, an increasingly literate population and 19% of the population between 15 and 24 years of age, steps will need to be taken to create, enhance and promote supportive social structures for these demographics.

It is worth mentioning that the new census did not capture any data on internal migration. Similarly, we needed data on fertility levels at the sub-national level and the mortality transition, so that the life expectancy could be connected to socio-economic developments.

Published in SAMAA |  – Jun 12, 2021 

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