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.
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.
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 (see table 3, Appendix).
In the last two decades of the Soviet era, Tajikistan had the highest birth rate of any Soviet republic (see table 2, Appendix). 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.
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.
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