Demographics of South Asia

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  • 00:00 Population of South Asia
  • 1:20 Ethinic Groups & Languages
  • 3:18 Religion
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the demographics of South Asia in terms of population, ethnic groups, languages, and religions. A short quiz will follow.

Population of South Asia

Demographics are statistical data relating to the population of an area and groups within it. Those could be religions. They could be cultural heritages. They could be languages or socioeconomic classes. They could be anything, really. So in a nutshell, demographics are numbers about people who live in a place. Numbers can be boring, but they help us make sense of a place in ways we just couldn't without them.

South Asia is the area usually considered to include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It's one of the most populated parts of the world, with a total of 1.7 billion people. Yep, you heard that right - 1.7 billion! That's 1,700 million people. Or five times the population of the USA. Most of that 1.7 billion is concentrated in India, which has 1.2 billion all on its own. But there are also 196 million people in Pakistan, 166 million in Bangladesh, 32 million in Afghanistan, 31 million in Nepal, 22 million in Sri Lanka, and less than a million each in Bhutan and the Maldives.

Ethnic Groups & Languages

South Asia is super diverse. Perhaps one of the most diverse areas of the planet. It can also be kind of hard to get numbers about, because India doesn't define ethnic groups in its census. India traditionally is divided into castes or clans rather than ethnicities. Languages are a little bit easier to pin down, but languages are also complicated because there are so many in the area.

The two largest language groups in South Asia are Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Indo-Aryans are most commonly found in Northern India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Dravidians are found mostly in Southern India and small pockets of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Two groups are pretty simple but, unfortunately, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

There are lots of smaller language families found across South Asia, including Persian (especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan), Tibeto-Burman (especially in the Himalayas and Bhutan), and odd pockets of Austroasiatic and Nuristani languages. When you break it down into specific languages, the most commonly spoken languages in South Asia are Hindi and Bengali in India; Bengali in Bangladesh, Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi in Pakistan; and Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. But there are over 780 languages and 66 different scripts in India alone. I told you it was diverse!

But that's all about language. What about actual ethnicity? Ethnically, South Asia is made up of a mix of Australoid and Indo-European genetic make-ups. If we really wanted to get into the ethnic groups of South Asia, I think we'd all become pretty overwhelmed. There are dozens of ethnic groups in the area that people use to define themselves. It's all very complicated.


The main religions in South Asia are Hindu, Islam and Buddhism. In India, 81% of the population are Hindu as of the 2001 census, with 13% Muslim and every other religion below 3% each. Nepal is similar to India with 81% Hindu and 11% Buddhist as of 2011.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is 96% Muslim, most of which are Sunni Muslim, with less than 2% Hindu and Christian. It's a similar story in Afghanistan where 99% are Muslim, also mostly Sunni. And in Bangladesh, where 90% are Muslim and 9% Hindu.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is 70% Buddhist, with 13% Hindu, 10% Muslim and 8% Christian, according to the 2012 census. It's one of the most mixed countries in South Asia, religiously. Bhutan also has a 70% Buddhist population, with the remaining 30% practicing Hinduism.

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