Demographics of Laos

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This article is about the demographic features of the population of Laos, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Laos' population was estimated at about 6 million in July 2004, dispersed unevenly across the country. Most people live in valleys of the Mekong River and its tributaries. Vientiane Prefecture, which includes Vientiane, the capital and largest city of the country, had about 569,000 residents in 1999. The country's population density is 23.4/kmĀ².

In March 2005, the total population was 5.62 million (2.82 million females, 2.80 million males) in the 2005 census, an increase of 1 047 000 since the previous 1995 census. [1]

Contents

Overview

The demographic makeup of the population is uncertain as the government divides the people into three groups according to the altitude at which they live, rather than according to ethnic origin. The lowland Lao (Lao Loum) account for 68%, upland Lao (Lao Theung) for 22%, and the highland Lao (Lao Soung, including the Hmong and the Yao) for 9%. Ethnic Vietnamese constitutes about 2% of the population.

Ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and politically and culturally dominant group, make up the bulk of the Lao Loum and around 60% of the total population. The Lao are a branch of the Tai people who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium A.D. In the north, there are mountain tribes of Miao-Yao, Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman - Hmong, Yao, Akha, and Lahu who migrated into the region in the 19th century. Collectively, they are known as Lao Sung or highland Lao. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes known as Lao Theung or upland Lao, predominate. Some Vietnamese and Chinese minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left in two waves - after independence in the late 1940s and again after 1975.

The predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism. Animism is common among the mountain tribes. Buddhism and spirit worship coexist easily. There also is a small number of Christians and Muslims.

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, once common in government and commerce, has declined in usage, while knowledge of English - the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - has increased in recent years.

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