In 1918, when the population was 648,100 and the density was 0.41 person per sq km, Mongolia faced a precarious future. The population has increased to about 2.3 million, but this still only represents 1.4 persons per sq km.
Inspired by classic Mongolian nationalism, the government actively promoted population growth, which now stands at 2.58% annually the highest in North-East Asia and one of the highest in the world. Until recently, Mongolians were offered all sorts of incentives and subsidies to reproduce. Women who produced five children were awarded the Order of Glorious Motherhood Second Class, and those with eight got the Order of Glorious Motherhood First Class. Couples with many children received cash awards, whereas those who remained childless were penalized with higher taxes. The distribution of contraceptives and abortion were made illegal.
The pastoral economy could not sustain a large population increase without greater competition for grazing land and damage to the environment. Some of Mongolias rapidly growing workforce was exported to Siberia, where labourers were badly needed, but the majority wound up in the cities. The government actively encouraged migration to urban areas in the belief that this would increase industrialization and productivity. However, these days, there is a severe labour shortage in agriculture. (Half the population still lives in a handful of urban centers.)
In the early 1990s, the government was unable to meet the needs or urban Mongolians, and many returned to relatives in the countryside. Nutrition dropped to bare survival level, even for soldiers, and child deaths rose sharply.
Families are now being encouraged to take up farming again. The punitive taxes for remaining childless have been removed, and there are no longer any prizes for prolific reproduction. The international aid agencies promote family planning, but Mongolians, aware of how outnumbered they are on all sides, are reluctant to curb family size. Couples can now have as many of as few children as they wish. The only means of birth control available to some Mongolians today (but very rarely in the countryside) are condoms and abortion, both of which were prohibited under communism.
More Mongolians live outside of Mongolia than in it about 3.5 million in China and nearly a million in Russia. Even along the Caspian Sea, thousands of kilometers from Mongolia, there are descendants of Mongolian armies. Those armies impressed Europe with Mongol unity, but throughout history nomads have usually preferred to go their own way, scattered across a huge land, with their primary loyalty being to their tribe.
The great majority (about 86%) of Mongolians are Khalkh Mongols. The other major ethnic group, the Kazaks, make up about 6% (130,000) of the population. Most Kazaks live in western Mongolia, mainly in Bayan-Olgii aimag, but their numbers are decreasing as more and more return to Kazakstan.
Barga. Originally from the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, they number about 2000 and live in remote pockets of Dornod and Tov.
Bayad. Once a powerful race; about 40,000 live in Uvs.
Buryat. Also found in Siberia, they number about 47,500 and congregate in the northern provinces of Bulgan, Dornod,
Khentii and Selenge.
Dariganga. About 32,300 live in southern Sukhbaatar.
Darkhad. Descended from the Turks; there are about 15,000 in Khovsgol.
Khoton. Of Turkish descent; about 6000 live in Uvs.
Myangad. Also of Turkish descent; about 5000 live in Khovd.
Oold. About 11,400 live in Khovd and Arkhangai.
Torguud. About 10,500 live in Khovd.
Tsaatan. Also known as the reindeer people, they are perhaps the smallest ethnic group; only about 200 live in northern Khovsgol.
Uriankhai. About 21,000 live in the Mongol Altai Nuruu mountains in Khovd and Bayan-Olgii.
Uzemchin. Only about 2000 live in Dornod and Sukhbaatar.
Zakhchin. About 24,700 live in Khovd.
Before 1990, Russians constituted about 1.5% of Mongolias population. Very few remain, as the rouble has sunk even faster than the tugrik, and trade has withered. Except for some Mongolians whod been educated in the USSR at Soviet expense, most Mongolians resented the Russians colonial arrogance. Mongolian drunks have beaten and stoned Russians in the streets.