Since the government does not control the entire
country, a complete census has not been possible since the
British days. As of 1988 the population is estimated to be
about 48.8 million according to international sources (but
46.4 million according to the Myanmar government), with an
annual growth rate of around 2.1%. Approximately 74% live in
The largest cities, in declining order, are Yangon,
Mandalay, Pathein, Mawlamyaing, Taunggyi and Sittwe.
Population statistics for each of these cities have not been
made public sine 1973, and local estimates vary wildly
depending on whom you ask; Yangon appears to have 3 or 4
million people, Mandalay around 800,000 the remainder
300,000 or fewer.
Myanmar's population can be divided into four main
ethnological groups - Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, Austro-Thai
and Karennic. Tibeto-Burman speakers encompass 78% of the
population and include the majority Bamar plus over 30
smaller tribal groups including the Rakhaing, Chin, Kachin,
Lisu, Lahu and Akha. Most of the Mon-Khmer are Mon living in
the Gulf of Martaban area, along with smaller groups in the
north such as the Intha, Wa and Palaung. Most of the
Austro-Thais are Shan living in the north; 'Shan' in fact
comes from the same Austro-Thais are Shan living in the
north; 'Shan' in fact comes from the same Austro-Thai root
as 'Siam', both meaning 'free'. The Karennic groups include
the numerous Kayin (Karen) and Kayah (known to the British
as the Karenni) tribes living along or near the central
Thai-Burmese border. There are also around 6000 Hmong-Mien
peoples scattered around the north and north-east.
Although ethnologists have identified 111 different
ethnolinguistic groups in Myanmar, the government
recongnises 67, officially clustered by language origin into
just eight 'national races': Bamar, Shan, Mon, Kayin, Chin,
Kachin and Rakhaing.
The exact percentage belonging to each group is a hotly
debated topic both inside and outside Myanmar. In the
absence of nay scientifically conducted census, no one can
claim to know the true ethnic breakdown. Best estimate run
as follows: Bamar 65% Shan 10%, Kayin 7%, Rakhaing 4% and
Chin, Kachin and Mon around 2.3% each. Chinese, Indian,
Assamese and other minorities comprise less than 1% each.