Population and Census

Vietnam’s population and housing census is conducted every ten years and begins on April 1st. The country has conducted five population and housing censuses since the revolution in 1975, specifically in April of 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009 and 2019.1 The fifth population and housing census in 2019 aimed to collect information about national indicators and some sustainable development indicators.2 According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in 2020, Vietnam’s population had reached 97.3 million people, which was the largest in the Mekong region.3 

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Figure 1. Vietnam’s population by sex (Unit: thousand people) – Adapted from General Statistics Office of Vietnam.

Overall, population growth in Vietnam is quite low4, increasing by just 1.07% in 2016,5 and 1.15% in 2019. This is due to the implementation of Vietnam’s National Strategy on Population and Reproductive Health (2011-2020), which committed to ensuring convenient access to contraceptives for 70% of women by 2020, and increasing that to access for all women by 2030. The goal includes access by poor, marginalized, hard to reach, and ethnic minority groups. This policy aims to reduce unplanned pregnancies, which can often result in unsafe births or abortions.

However, the population and family planning work remains limited as a two-child policy combined with a cultural preference for sons has led to gender disparities in the population. In part, this has contributed to a sex-at-birth ratio of 112 boys/100 girls, 6 in 2019 the ratio slightly drop to 111.5 boys/100 girls.

While this ratio is lower and less severe than China’s sex-at-birth ratio of 120/100 in the early 2000s, it is significantly higher than other Mekong countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos (105/100). According to the UNFPA, this is driven by gender discrimination that preferences having a son, combined with unrecorded but common practices like abortion for sex selection. 7 This practice continues even though abortion for sex-selection is illegal, because abortion generally is legal.

This is predicted to have long-term effects on the population structure of the country. For example, the UNFPA analysis shows that there was a surplus of 52,900 boys between 2009 to 2014.8 Over the next 15 years, it is likely that this will threaten the prospects for marriage for men born during this period. 

Some other shortages in population management are:

  1.  There is no uniform solution to bring into full play the advantages of the golden population and adaptation to the aging population;
  2. Demographic and Human Development Index in 2020 is 0.704, not much improvement from 0.691 of 2016, currently ranking 117 out of 189 countries;9
  3. The rate of malnutrition, maternal, and child mortality remains high;
  4. Life expectancy has increased but years of healthy life is low; and
  5. The status of child marriage – blood marriage is common in some ethnic groups.

Vietnam aims to maintain a steady rate of replacement fertility and by 2030 the population will reach 104 million with the aim of increasing the quality of the  population to contribute more evenly to society.10

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Figure 2. Population growth rate of Vietnam over time – Adapted from General Statistics Office of Vietnam. 

Age Distribution

Vietnam has a young population, however the era of the  “golden population” is estimated to end by 2040, with people aged 15 to 24 currently accounting for 70% of the population.11 In 2016, Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO) reported that the country’s working age population had increased by 461,000 people to 54.45 million people over the previous year.12 . In 2019, Vietnam has 55.77 million people in working age. 

Made with Flourish

Figure 3. Population structure by working age in Vietnam (Unit: % of total labour force) – Adapted from General Statistic Office of Vietnam.

Life expectancy of Vietnam population has been increasing in recent years, specifically from 67.5 to 73.62 years between 2000 and 2019, which was highest among populations living in the Lower Mekong countries. Life expectancy of a woman is 81, which is nine years longer than that of men (72).13 The increase of Vietnam’s aging index reflects an improvement in the health and life expectancy for Vietnamese people. However, it also poses challenges for the provision of old-age pensions and care.14 

Population density

In January 2021, Vietnam was one of the most densely populated countries in Southeast Asia with 315 people/km2.15

Figure 4. Population density by region in Vietnam in 2016 (adapted from General Statistics Office of Vietnam, 2016)

As reported by General Statistics Office of Vietnam, in urban areas, Ho Chi Minh City ranks highest in both population numbers (9,8038.6 thousand people in 2019) and density (4,385 people/sq km), followed by Hanoi with a population of 8,093.9 people at a density of 2,410 people/sq km. Hanoi’s population increased by 1,460.6 thousand people between 2010 and 2019, and Ho Chi Minh City shared the same pattern with an increase of 1,692 thousand people. According to the national urbanization plan by the government, the population density in big cities is likely to increase as the projected proportion of urban areas will increase from 33.88% in 2015 to 45% of land by 2020.

Urbanization rates of Vietnam remain low with a slow rate of increase (32.8%) as compared to world average of 52%, and ranks seventh among Southeast Asian countries.16

Vietnam’s Ethnic Diversity

Ethnic diversity is a prominent feature of the Vietnamese population. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, in which the Kinh ethnic group accounts for largest proportion (about 86%). 53 other ethnic groups make up the remaining 14% (Tay: 1.89%, Thai: 1.81% and Muong: 1.48%).17 Ethnic groups in Vietnam are classified based on five linguistic families, namely Nam A, Thai – Ka-dai (or Kam–Thai), Han–Tang, Nam Dao (or Ma-lai – Da-dao) and Mong–Dao (or Meo-Dao).18 and eight language groups, namely Viet–Muong, Tay-Thai, Mong-Dao, Ka-Dai, Tang Mien, Nam Dao, and Han.19 

The Kinh ethnic group lives all over the country, but are predominantly concentrated in plains and river deltas. The majority of the remaining ethnic groups reside in the midlands and mountain areas spreading from the North to the South of the country, and they share homeland with one another, particularly the minority communities in the North and North Central region. 20 

Vietnam has long-established religious diversity and cultural beliefs. There are six main religions, namely Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Muslims, Caodaism, and Hoahaoism. Buddhism first came to Vietnam in early century A.D and is the dominant religion with about 11 million Buddhists. Catholicism was initially introduced to Vietnam on merchant ships in 1533, and now has 6.5 million followers.21


Vietnam has witnessed a sharp rise in internal migration since 1999, when the economy thrived in response to restructuring from agriculture to industry and services. As a consequence, the strong development of industrial and export processing zones attracted a large number of labor migrants. Shifts in livelihood opportunities in rural areas is the largest factor for internal migration towards urban areas, with people in search of new job opportunities.22 According to the Vietnam 2014 mid-term population and housing survey, 44.8% of migrants stated job seeking or new employment as their reasons for migrating. Family migrating accounted for 22.8%, and only 6.1% were repatriation migrants. In 2015 the national internal migration survey indicated economic reasons as the main response (34.7%). Migrants’ income improved after migration.23

The proportion of migrants having professional and technical qualification (31.7%) is higher than that of non-migrants (24.5%). It is noted that the proportion of female migrants is higher than that of male migrants, but the level of professional and technical qualification of female migrants is lower compared to their male counterparts. Hanoi is the area where migrants have the highest level of professional and technical qualifications as compared with the rest of the country (46.7%), as opposed to the Southeast region (13.4%).24


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