Census | Demography | Labour Market | Development priority | Gender | Urbanization | Migration

Designed by Dibyak Kapali
Designed by Dibyak Kapali


Highlights of the Nepal Census 2021

Some highlights from the Nepal's 12th national census conducted in November 2021 and final report released on March 24, 2023:

By Rima Sah |

After facing a delay of more than a year, the Nepalese government released the final report of the Nepal population census 2021 on March 24, 2023. The much-awaited census data report comprehensively accounts for the country's population, demographics, and socio-economic characteristics.

With significant changes happening in its societal and demographic structures in recent years, the report highlights important trends and patterns that have emerged in Nepal's society and population — providing valuable insights for policymakers, researchers, and scholars interested in understanding the social and economic changes taking place in this rapidly evolving country and to prioritise necessary development needs. 

Population highlights and trends 

As of 25 November 2021, Nepal's population is 29,164,578, with a sex ratio of 95.59 males per 100 females. Overall, Nepal's population has grown by 10.18% since the last census. 

The annualised average population growth rate in 2021 is 0.92%, which is at its lowest in 80 years.

The primary possible reasons for the decline in population growth are increased outbound migration and erosion in the fertility rate.

Table 1: Population Statistics

Category 2021 2011
Total Population 29,164,578 26,494,504
Male Population (In %) 48.87 48.5
Female Population (In %) 51.13 51.5
Other Gender Population 2,928 (0.01%) -
Annualised Population Growth Rate (Since Last Census) 0.92 1.35
Urban Population (In %) 66.17% 17.07%
Rural Population (In %) 33.83% 82.93%


This census has also collected information about individuals identifying as 'other gender' which stands at a total of 2,928 individuals reported — 0.01% of the population.

The report shows that 53.66% of the population resides in the Terai region, while 40.25% live in the hilly area and 6.09% in the mountainous region. 

Growing urban population

The overall urban population has grown to 66.17% in 2021 — up from 17.07% in 2011. Whereas the rural population has decreased to 33.83% in 2021 from 82.93% in 2011.

Kathmandu Metropolitan City has the highest population — 8,45,767 people including the highest density of 5,108 persons per sq km.

This sudden shift towards urban areas can be attributed to the conversion of formerly rural areas into municipalities post-state restructuring after the federal constitution was promulgated in 2015.

In the past, Nepal had only 58 municipalities, but now 293 areas are designated as municipalities whose population is now considered urban, while the population of the remaining 460 rural municipalities is classified as rural.

Poverty, lack of quality education and health care services, inadequate employment opportunities, and poor connectivity in rural areas have resulted in an exodus of people to urban areas and the plains making some of these cities such as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Butwal even more crowded. Migration to urban areas has brought more economic opportunities and higher incomes but also presents issues such as mismanaged urbanisation and resource management.

Declining rural population

Nepal's rural areas have experienced a decline in population growth, with places such as Ramechhap, Khotang, Manang, and Bhojpur showing a significant decrease. Meanwhile, urban centres like Bharatpur and Butwal have witnessed population growth in districts like Bhaktapur, Rupandehi, and Chitwan. 

Due to the development of cities in the Terai region, there has been a shift of population from the mountains to the Terai, leading to a higher population density of 461 people/sq km in Terai compared to 34 people/sq km in the mountains.

Population density

The Terai region, which is home to 53.66% of the population, has the highest population density — 461 people per sq km which was 392 people per sq km in 2011. 

The hilly region with a total population of 40.25% has a population density of 192 people per sq km and the mountain region with 6.09% has a population density of 34 people per sq km. 

Table 2: Topography-wise Population and Population Density


2021 2011
Terai Hill Mountain Terai Hill Mountain
Population (In %) 53.66 40.25 6.09 50.27 43 6.73
Population Density (In Sq. Km.) 460 192 34 392 182 34


The higher population density in the Terai region can be attributed to better infrastructure, good road connections, large farmlands, and a higher concentration of industries. Being considered the food basket of the country, its increasing population concentration may have negative consequences for agriculture due to the possibility of large-scale land conversion for settlement and industrialization.

On the other hand, declining populations in the hill and mountain regions are threatening its socio-economic conditions through a shortage of people and labour. 

Outbound migration trend continues; More women migrating

Between 2011 and 2021, there has been a double-digit increase in the number of Nepali citizens living abroad, with a total increase of 269,098 or 14.01%.

The percentage of females among Nepalis living abroad has increased from 12.36% to 17.83%, indicating a rising trend of female migration. At the same time, the percentage of males has decreased from 87.64% to 82.17%.

In terms of numbers, the male population living abroad has increased by 6.01% and females by 7.98%. 

Economically (in)active population

The economically active population includes individuals aged 10 years or above who are engaged in any economic activity, regardless of whether they are seeking employment or not. This could include performing economic work for any duration, or actively searching for part-time or full-time work if they had not engaged in any economic activity in the 12 months prior to the census. 

The economically active population counted 15,689,777 individuals — 65.5% of the total population while 34.3% were economically inactive. 

Those who did not engage in any economic activity nor actively searched for work during the reference period are classified as the economically inactive population.

Among the 8,211,012 economically inactive individuals, 46.9% were students. Other reasons included household chores (21.9%), age (11.0%), family care (7.5%), disability/illness (2.5%), pensions (2.2%), social work/volunteer service (0.3%), and other reasons (7.4%).

Agriculture continues as the largest economic sector while manufacturing contributes less

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing is the largest industrial category in Nepal, employing 57.3% of the economically active population out of the 14,983,310 individuals who were engaged in any kind of economic activity in the last 12 months preceding the census.

Electricity emerges as the primary source of lighting

Electricity has become the primary source of lighting for the majority of households, with 92.2% of households using it as their main source. This marks a significant increase from the 67.3% reported in 2011. 

Solar energy is the second most commonly used source of lighting, accounting for 6.6% of households, followed by kerosene and other sources at 0.6% each. In 2011, kerosene was used by 18.3% of households, while solar and other sources were used by 7.4% and 6.1% of households, respectively. 

The increase in the use of electricity as the main source of lighting demonstrates Nepal's progress in expanding access to electricity, a crucial factor in improving living standards and supporting economic development.

Shift in the main source of fuel for cooking

Half of Nepal’s households, around 51%, still depend on wood/firewood as the main source of fuel for cooking. Other main sources of fuel for cooking are liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) 44.3%, cow dung 2.9%, biogas 1.2%, electricity 0.5%, kerosene 0.05%, and other 0.1% of the total households. 

The 2011 census had shown that 64.0% of the total households usually used wood/firewood for cooking.

44.3 %  of the household depend on LPG cylinders for their cooking needs despite their safety hazards and stress on the foreign exchange reserves. Nepal imported LPG amounting to Rs 38.72 billion till mid-march of the present fiscal year, which was equivalent to Rs 40.64 billion during the corresponding period of the last fiscal year. 

Significant increase in literacy rate, with the majority completing primary education

The overall literacy rate has increased to 76.2%, with the male literacy rate at 83.6% and the female literacy rate at 69.4%.

The largest proportion of literate individuals have completed primary education (28.7%), followed by lower secondary education (19.9%), and 9.5% have completed S.L.C or equivalent. 

Additionally, 19.5% have completed higher levels of education, indicating progress in educational attainment.

95.5% of Nepali households now have access to toilet facilities

Out of a total of 6,660,841 conventional households (excluding institutional households), 95.5% have access to some type of toilet facility — a significant improvement from 2011 when 38.2%  of households did not have access to any toilet facility.

Maternal mortality ratio among women of fertility age 

The National Population Census 2021 has also shed light on the maternal mortality ratio among women of fertility age (15-49 years). Out of the total 12,976 female deaths in this age group in the 12 months prior to the census, 5% or 653 deaths were related to pregnancy. 

Upon conducting a Verbal Autopsy in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Population, it was found that 95% or 622 of these pregnancy-related deaths were attributed to maternal mortality.

During the same reference period, 412,935 live births were recorded from this age group of mothers. The resulting maternal mortality ratio was found to be 151 deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births.

Rima Sah is a researcher/writer at the_farsight. She is a graduate in Sociology from South Asian University.

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