Urban Migration and Demographic Trends in Thailand
Thailand's urban population as a percentage of the total population remains lower than the world average. Urban population in the world surpasses the 50 % mark a few years ago. In Thailand in 2018 we arejust under that threshold. [Data provided by World Bank website, reportedly based on Thai data]
Urban population in Thailand was only around 20 % in 1960. Since then there has been a steady increase which accelerated a lot from 2000 onwards. Since then the percentage of city dwellers increased from 31.4 % to 49.9 % in 2018. This is around 1 % of the population moving every year (or around 600,000 people!). Likely we passed the 50 % mark in 2019.
If the numbers are correct, it means that lots of people are moving from the countryside. We must conclude that fewer and fewer people are working in the agricultural sector. The question is : what will happen in 2020 ? Will the corona crisis have a profound effect, shortlasting or longlasting? This may have implication for migration patterns in Thailand. If there is high unemployment in manufacturing and services, due to a prolonged recession, maybe may escape to the countryside.
When looking at the different regions of Thailand, we can see striking differences. Most prominent and well known locally, is the profound increase in the population of Bangkok and its surrounding provinces (treated as one huge 'metropolis' here). Between 1996 and 2016, the population increased from 9,809 million to 15,759 million, an increase of 60.7 %. The overall population of Thailand increased from 59,595 million to 67,455 million or 13.2 %, (fertility rate in Thailand is around 1.5 % since many years, meaning that the population will start to decrease not that long from now).
In absolute numbers the same 20 years saw a prominent decrease in population of the Northeastern Region of Thailand. Isaan saw its population decrease from 20,439 million in 1996 to 18,674 million in 2016, a decrease of 8.6 %. Please take into account that Thailand's population overall increased by 13.2 % during that period. The population of the Northeast actually increased till the year 2000, so the decrease in population since then is even larger percentage-wise. Looking at the first image on this page, it likely explains a lot about the increase in urban populatoin from the year 2000 onwards.
It is not likely that fertility in the Northeast is much lower than elsewhere in the country. What is more likely is that most of the migrating people ended up in Bangkok and surrounding areas. From the absolute figures it is not quite possible to tell how much of the increase in population of the Eastern Provinces comes from the Northeast, or maybe from Bangkok or other provinces.
When looking at the increase of the population in the different regions of Thailand, it also becomes clear that there has been a large relative increase in the population of the Eastern provinces. The population in the East increased from 3.866 million to 5,633 million from 1996 to 2016, an increase of 45.7 percent.
There is a steady increase in population of Bangkok and surrounding area, and the Eastern Provinces. The Northeast still has the largest number of inhabitants, so a drop of 8.6 % in inhabitants from 1996 to 2016, while the country has a whole increased in population by about 13.2 % is substantial.
The other regions of Thailand seem to be closer to the country average, though it is worthwhile to notice the decrease over the last 10 years of the population in the Northern Provinces.
These migration patterns are most easily explained by the 'follow the money' principle. The Eastern Region is an area of heavy (petrochemical and other) industry, and Bangkok is kind of a center of all things going on in Thailand, except perhaps for the agricultural industry.
Map delineating the above described regions. You can also find the location of the provinces at our page regarding provincial GDP (GRP) :