Demographics of Thailand


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Thailand's population is relatively homogeneous, however, this is changing due to immigration. More than 85% speak a Tai language and share a common culture. This core population includes the central Thai (33.7% of the population, including Bangkok's population), Northeastern Thai or Lao (34.2%), northern Thai (18.8%), and southern Thai (13.3%).

The language of the central Thai population is the educational language and administrative language. Several other small Tai groups include the Shan, Lue, and Phutai.

Up to 14% of Thailand's population are of Chinese descent, but the Sino-Thai community is the best integrated in Southeast Asia. Malay and Yawi-speaking Muslims of the south comprise another significant minority group (2.3%). Other groups include the Khmer; the Mon, who are substantially assimilated with the Thai; and the Vietnamese. Smaller mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong and Mein, as well as the Karen, number about 788,024. Some 300,000 Hmong, who ironically have lived this area for more generations than the Thais themselves, are to receive citizenship by 2010.

Thailand is also home to a significant number[quantify] of registered foreigners from Asia, Europe, and North America, as well as an estimated several hundred thousand illegal immigrants, some of which are natives. Increasing numbers of migrants from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia as well as nations such as Nepal, India, and expats from the West and Japan have pushed the number of non-nationals residing in Thailand to close to 2 million in 2008, up from about 1.3 million in the year 2000. A rising awareness of minorities is slowly changing attitudes in a country where non-nationals, some having resided in what is now Thailand longer than the Thais themselves, are barred from numerous privileges ranging from healthcare, ownership of property, or schooling in their own language.

The population is mostly rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. However, as Thailand continues to industrialize, its urban population - 31.1% of the total population, principally in the Bangkok area - is growing.

Thailand's highly successful government-sponsored family planning program has resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to around 0.4% today. Life expectancy also has risen, a positive reflection of Thailand's efforts in executing public health policies. However, the AIDS epidemic has had a major impact on the Thai population. Today, over 700,000 Thais are HIV or AIDS positive - approximately 2% of adult men and 1.5% of adult women. Eevery year, 30,000-50,000 Thais die from HIV or AIDS-related causes. Ninety percent of them aged 20-24, the youngest range of the workforce. The situation could have been worse; an aggressive public education campaign in the early 1990s reduced the number of new HIV infections from 150,000 to 25,000 annually.

The 1997 constitution mandated 12 years of free education, however, this is not provided universally. Education accounts for 19% of total government expenditures.

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand and is officially the religion of about 97% of its people. However, the true figure lies closer to 85%, Muslims are some 10% and 5% other religions including Christianity, Hinduism, especially among immigrants. In addition to Malay and Yawi speaking Thais and other southerners who are Muslim, the Cham of Cambodia in recent years begun a large scale influx into Thailand. The government permits religious diversity, and other major religions are represented, though there is much social tension, especially in the South. Spirit worship and animism are widely practiced.

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