1. Introduction

Burma’s human geography explores a country that was once a powerful Buddhist empire. Burma’s roots go back to 200 BC. It was the beginning of what was to become the largest empire in Southeast Asia.

Photo: The influence of Buddhism on Burma is seen in the ancient city of Bagan (Creative Commons: Jose Javier Martin Espartosa).

2. Ethnic Groups and Language

Burman 68%
Shan 9%
Karen 7%
Rakhine 4%
Other 12%

Chart: Ethnic Groups of Burma

Ethnic Groups: Burma is not as diverse as its neighboring countries.  The Burman people are a solid majority of the population (68%). They are followed by the Shan (9%), Karen (7%) and Rakhine (4%).  The remaining 12% belong to various other minority groups.

Language: The official language of the country is Burmese. Most of the minority ethnic groups continue to speak their local dialects.

3. Religions

Buddhism 89%
Christianity 4%
Islam 4%
Other 3%

Chart: Religions of Burma

Religion: The majority religion of Burma is Buddhism (89%). It is followed by Christianity (4%), Islam (4%) and other localized religious groups (3%). As in the case of ethnicity, Burma has a solid religious majority.

4. Demographics

Burma 91%
World 100%
USA 74%

Chart: Population Growth Rate Index (World = 100%)

The population of Burma is about 55 million people. It is the 24th most populated country in the world. Only about a third of the population (34%) live in urban areas. Rangoon is the capital city with a population of about 4.3 million people.

The population growth rate is about 1.0% a year. This is just slightly more than that of the United States (0.8%) and about the same as the world (1.1%). The country has a moderately low population growth rate. Life expectancy is 65 years of age. This is in the lower end of the scale in comparison to other countries.

5. Economy

Chart: Economic Sectors

More than two-thirds of the labor force works in the agricultural sector (70%). The service sector accounts for 23% of the workforce. The manufacturing sector employs about 7% of the work force. About 33% of the population lives in poverty.

Major agricultural products are rice, beans, sesame, and peanuts. Important minerals are copper, tin, tungsten and iron. Major industries are food processing and wood products.

6. Economic Development

Burma 1700 $US
World 13100 $US
USA 52800 $US

Chart: per capita GDP

Burma’s per capita gross domestic product is $1,700. The per capita GDP is one of the lowest in the world. This compares to the world’s average ($13,100) and the USA ($52,800). Burma is clearly a developing country.

7. Political

The official name of Burma is the Union of Burma. The country is also known as Myanmar.

The capital of Burma is Rangoon. Burma has a parliamentary government. The country achieved independence from Britain in 1948.

8. Improving Your Reading and Thinking Skills

Think for a few moments. Try to recall the major ideas in this article. When you are done, click the box below for a list of main ideas.


How did you do? With practice, you should be able to identify many of the major ideas. You may even discover some important ideas that aren’t listed.

9. Bibliography

Geography of Burma, How Stuff Works.


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