Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents



Population: Estimates vary; July 1994 approximately 4.7 million. Growth rate estimates range from 2.6 to 2.9 percent. More than 85 percent population rural, early 1990s. Approximately 9,000 Laotians--mostly Hmong--in refugee camps in Thailand according to United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees as of January 1995; approximately 1,500 refugees in southern China, late 1994.

Ethnic Groups: Officially multiethnic nation with more than forty ethnic groups, classified into three general families: Lao Sung (upland Lao) 10 percent of population in 1993; Lao Theung (midland Lao) 24 percent; and Lao Loum (lowland Lao), 66 percent. The term Laotian is used for the national population; Lao for the ethnic group.

Language: Lao, official language; also French, English, various highland ethnic languages.

Religion: Provision for religious freedom in constitution; almost all Laotians Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism predominant among Lao Loum and some Lao Theung; animist beliefs widespread.

Education and Literacy: Universal, compulsory education after establishment of LPDR in 1975 but limited resources. Enrollments: estimated 603,000 primary school students, almost 130,000 secondary school students--including lower- and uppersecondary school--in 1992-93. Universal primary education goal for 2000. Nine-month school year includes five years primary school, three years lower-secondary school, and three years upper-secondary school. Those able to read and write estimated by United Nations at 84 percent (92 percent of men and 76 percent of women) ages fifteen to forty-five as of 1985; other figures cite only 45 percent total literacy; government acknowledges need for improved literacy.

Health: Health and health care poor. Chronic moderate vitamin and protein deficiencies common, especially among upland ethnic groups. Poor sanitation. Number of health care personnel increasing; concentrated in Vientiane area, where population per physician 1,400:1 versus national ratio of 10,000:2.6 in 1989. Birth rate 43.23 per 1,000; death rate 14.74 per 1,000, 1994 estimates. Life expectancy at birth 50.16 years male, 53.28 years female, 1994 estimates.

Data as of July 1994