Laos is a one-party communist state and is one of Asia’s poorest countries. The country has large natural resources and in recent years has experienced economic growth.
Key figures and facts
- Capital: Vientiane
- Ethnic groups: Lao 53.2%, khmou 11%, hmong 9.2%, phu tai 3.4%, thai 3.1%, makong 2.5%, katong 2.2%, hat 2%, akha 1.8%, other 11.6%, (over 200 different ethnic groups live in Laos) (2015)
- Language: Lao (official), French, English, various minority languages.
- Religion: Buddhists 64.7%, Christians 1.7%, none 31.4%, other/unspecified 2.1% (2015)
- Population: 6,961,210 (2018)
- Control Form: Republic
- Area: 236 800 km2
- Currency: Lao Chicken
- GNP per capita: 6 550 PPP $
- National Day: December 2nd
The population of Laos is 7.2 million (2018, CIA World Factbook). The number of residents increased by 1.48 percent compared to 2017. Since the troubled 1970s, population growth has been very high. The birth rate and death rate for the period 1990–1995 were calculated at 45.2 per milliliter and 15.2 per milliliter respectively, while in 2018 they were 23.2 per milliliter and 7.3 per milliliter respectively. The birth rate per woman was 2.65 children. The high birth rate makes the population very young. 53.19 percent of the population is under the age of 24. The people usually live together in large families. In the countryside, each household has six members on average, in cities and towns five.
Life expectancy at birth is 67.1 years for women and 62.9 years for men (2018).
According to the official Laotian data, there are 49 ethnic groups, which are divided into four main groups by the authorities according to their approximate location in the terrain: Lao Loum and Lao Thai (200–400 m asl), Lao Theung (300–900 m). lao sung (over 1000 masl).
Ethnic Lao people, about half of the country’s population, are identical to the much larger Lao-speaking population across the Mekong, in northeastern Thailand. They belong to the ethnic-linguistic group thai-kadai, are Buddhists and live along the Mekong and its bees.
Lao thai (tai) accounts for 10-20 percent of the population and is closely related to lao loum. They live more in isolation, in smaller communities and have essentially retained an animistic faith.
Lao theung counts 20-30 percent of the population and is mostly ethnic Monkhmer groups, which are the oldest ethnic groups in Laos. Many of the poorest of the country’s population are included in this group. Many have converted to Buddhism, but most are animists.
Lao sung counts 10-20 percent of the population. They live in the mountains of northern Laos, and are mostly Tibetan-Burmese peoples who have immigrated from Myanmar, Tibet and Yunnan, as well as from China in recent times. The largest groups are hmong (about 200,000, formerly called meo or miao) and mien (30,000–50,000, also called lu mien, yao or man). Chinese count 2–5 percent of the population and live mainly in the cities of Vientiane and Savannakhet.
With 31.34 residents per km2, Laos is the thinnest population in Southeast Asia. About 45 percent of the population lives in the four (out of a total of 18) provinces of Vientiane and Luang Prabang (north of Vientiane), as well as Savannakhet and Champasak in the southern part of the country. 35 percent of the population lives in urban areas. The only major city is the capital Vientiane, which has 562,244 residents (2017).
Since the 1300s, theravada Buddhism has been dominant. 64.7 percent of the population (mainly Lao) are Buddhists. Minority peoples have different local religions with elements of, among others, shamanism. Christian mission has been active since the 1880s, but the percentage of Christians is low (1.7 percent), most of whom are Catholic. There are also Muslims.
The official language is Lao (Lao), spoken by about half the population. It belongs to the language family tai, like many other minority languages, and is written with its own alphabet. The monkhmer language family is represented by approximately one million people, including khmu and the lamb. In northern Laos, another two language groups are represented, Miao-Yao and Tibetan-Burmese languages.