Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country located on the Gulf of Thailand, bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It has a rich and turbulent history, marked by periods of glory and tragedy. Today, Cambodia is a developing country with a young and diverse population that faces many challenges and opportunities.
Population Size and Growth
According to the latest United Nations data, the projected population of Cambodia in 2023 is 16,944,826, a 1.06% increase from 2022. This means that Cambodia will add about 178,984 people to its population in one year. Cambodia ranks number 71 in the list of countries by population, accounting for about 0.21% of the world population.
Cambodia’s population growth rate has been declining steadily since the 1990s, when it reached a peak of 3.6% per year. This is mainly due to the decline in fertility rate, which measures the average number of children per woman. In 2020, Cambodia’s fertility rate was 2.52, which is above the replacement level of 2.1 but below the regional average of 2.6. The fertility rate is expected to continue to decrease in the coming years, reaching 2.36 by 2025.
Another factor that affects Cambodia’s population growth rate is migration. Cambodia has a negative net migration rate, which means that more people leave the country than enter it. In 2020, Cambodia’s net migration rate was -0.18 per 1,000 people, which translates to about -30,000 people per year. Most of the emigrants are young and educated people who seek better opportunities abroad, especially in neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. This creates a brain drain problem for Cambodia, as well as a loss of potential labor force and tax revenue.
Population Structure and Distribution
Cambodia has a very young population structure, with a median age of 25.6 years. This means that half of the population is younger than 25.6 years and half is older. The young population reflects the high fertility rate in the past and the low life expectancy at birth, which was 69.8 years in 2020. About 31% of the population is under 15 years old, while only 5% is over 65 years old. This creates a high dependency ratio of 52%, which means that there are 52 dependents (children and elderly) for every 100 working-age people (15-64 years old).
Cambodia’s population is unevenly distributed across its territory, which covers an area of 181,035 square kilometers. The population density in Cambodia is 95 people per square kilometer, which ranks 118th in the world. However, most of the population lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Only 24.2% of the population lives in urban areas, which are concentrated around the capital city of Phnom Penh and other major cities like Battambang, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. Phnom Penh alone has a population of about 1.6 million people, making it the largest and most populous city in Cambodia.
Population Challenges and Opportunities
Cambodia’s population faces many challenges and opportunities in the 21st century. Some of the main challenges are:
- Poverty: Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, with a gross national income per capita of only $1,510 in 2019. About 13% of the population lives below the national poverty line, while about 35% lives on less than $3.20 per day. Poverty is more prevalent in rural areas than urban areas, and among ethnic minorities than Khmer majority. Poverty is linked to low levels of education, health, nutrition and sanitation, as well as limited access to basic services and infrastructure.
- Health: Cambodia has made significant progress in improving its health indicators in recent decades, but still faces many health challenges. The maternal mortality ratio was 160 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017, while the under-five mortality rate was 28 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019. These rates are higher than the regional averages of 110 and 21, respectively. Some of the major causes of death are lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases and malaria. Cambodia also has a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 0.5% of adults living with HIV in 2019.
- Environment: Cambodia faces many environmental challenges due to its rapid economic development and population growth. Some of these challenges include deforestation, land degradation, water pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. Cambodia has lost about 22% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2015, mainly due to illegal logging and agricultural expansion. Land degradation affects about 34% of the country’s land area, reducing soil fertility and crop productivity. Water pollution is caused by untreated industrial and domestic wastewater, agricultural runoff and solid waste disposal. Biodiversity loss threatens many endemic species and ecosystems that provide valuable services and resources for human well-being. Climate change poses risks for Cambodia’s agriculture, water resources, health and livelihoods due to increased temperatures, droughts, floods and storms.
Some of the main opportunities for Cambodia’s population are:
- Demographic dividend: Cambodia has a large proportion of young people who can potentially contribute to its economic growth and social development if they are provided with adequate education, health care, skills training and employment opportunities. This window of opportunity is known as the demographic dividend, which occurs when the working-age population grows faster than the dependent population (children and elderly). According to some estimates
- Demographic dividend: Cambodia has a large proportion of young people who can potentially contribute to its economic growth and social development if they are provided with adequate education, health care, skills training and employment opportunities. This window of opportunity is known as the demographic dividend, which occurs when the working-age population grows faster than the dependent population (children and elderly). According to some estimates, Cambodia can increase its per capita income by up to 40% by 2050 if it harnesses its demographic dividend effectively.
- Economic development: Cambodia has achieved remarkable economic growth in recent years, averaging about 7% per year since 2011. This growth has been driven by strong performance in sectors such as garments, tourism, construction and agriculture. Cambodia has also benefited from regional integration and trade liberalization, as well as foreign direct investment and development assistance. As a result, Cambodia has graduated from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country in 2016. Cambodia aims to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
- Social development: Cambodia has made significant progress in improving its social indicators in recent decades, especially in areas such as education, gender equality and human rights. The literacy rate among adults was 80% in 2018, up from 68% in 2008. The net enrollment rate in primary education was 98% in 2019, up from 82% in 2000. The gender parity index in primary education was 1.02 in 2019, meaning that there were slightly more girls than boys enrolled. The human development index value for Cambodia was 0.594 in 2019, placing it among the medium human development countries. Cambodia has also ratified many international conventions and treaties on human rights and has established various institutions and mechanisms to promote and protect them.
Cambodia’s population in 2023 is projected to be about 17 million people, with a young and diverse structure. Cambodia’s population faces many challenges and opportunities in the 21st century, such as poverty, health, environment, demographic dividend, economic development and social development. Cambodia’s population can play a vital role in shaping the country’s future if it is empowered with the necessary resources and opportunities.
: [Cambodia Population 1950-2023 | MacroTrends](https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/KHM/cambodia/population)
: [Cambodia Population (2023) – Worldometer](https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/cambodia-population/)
: [World Population Prospects – Population Division – United Nations](https://population.un.org/wpp/)
: [Migration in Cambodia: An Overview – IOM Publications])
: [Demographic Dividend Opportunities for Cambodia – UNFPA])
: [Cambodia Overview – World Bank](https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/cambodia/overview)
: [Rectangular Strategy Phase IV – Royal Government of Cambodia](http://cnv.org.kh/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Rectangular-Strategy-Phase-IV_en.pdf)
: [Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above) – Cambodia | Data](https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?locations=KH)
: [Cambodia | UNESCO UIS](http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/kh)
: [Human Development Report 2020 – UNDP](http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr2020.pdf)