In recent years, the role of human activities in changing sediment yield has become more apparent for the construction of hydraulic engineering and water conservation projections in the Upper Yangtze River, but it has not been evaluated at the macro scale. Taking Sichuan Province and Chongqing City as an example, this paper studies the relationship between socio-economic factors and sediment yield in the Upper Yangtze River based on section data in 1989 and 2007. The results show that sediment yield is significantly correlated with population density and cultivated area, in which the former appears to be more closely related to sediment yield. Moreover, in the relation of sediment yield vs. population density, a critical value of population density exists, below which the sediment yield increases with the increase of population density and over which the sediment yield increases with the decrease of population density. The phenomenon essentially reflects the influence of natural factors, such as topography, precipitation and soil property, and some human activities on sediment yield. The region with a higher population density than critical value is located in the east of the study area and is characterized by plains, hills and low mountains, whereas the opposite is located in the west and characterized by middle and high mountains. In the eastern region, more people live on the lands with a low slope where regional soil erosion is slight; therefore, sediment yield is negatively related with population density. In contrast, in the western region, the population tends to aggregate in the areas with abundant soil and water resources which usually lead to a higher intensity of natural erosion, and in turn, high-intensity agricultural practices in these areas may further strengthen local soil erosion. It is also found that population tends to move from the areas with bad environment and high sediment yield to the areas with more comfortable environment and less sediment yield. The natural factors have greater influence on sediment yield of western region than that of eastern region. Generally, the natural factors play a dominant role on sediment yield in the Upper Yangtze River.