PNG has conducted decadal censuses since 1961, but the 2011 Census is considered unreliable (Allen, 2014; Bourke and Allen, 2021). Bourke and Allen (2021) have constructed a time series using an earlier population growth rate (2.7 per cent, the average from 1980 to 2000, is their mid-range estimate) to estimate the national population from 2000 to 2020. This gives a 2020 population estimate of 8.8 million, close to the UN estimate for this year.

Data notes on population

PNG’s population in 2020 is some three times its population at independence. This is one of the, if not the, biggest changes between PNG then and PNG now. Every year now, PNG gains 230,000 citizens – 8 per cent of the population at the time of independence, and more than three times the annual increment at independence.

The World Bank estimates PNG’s urban population share to be 13 per cent, only slightly above the 12 per cent at the time of independence. Bourke and Allen (2021) estimate a higher urban population share of about 15 per cent. Either way, PNG remains a predominantly rural country. According to World Bank data, PNG is the most rural country in the world (along with Burundi).

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