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Demographics of Eritrea

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Demographics of Eritrea

Eritrea has an estimated population of 5.7 million as of 2010. No reliable census data is available, the best available estimates being published by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Population has doubled over the past 30 years, with an accelerating growth rate estimated at close to 3.2% p.a. during 2005–2010. This rate of population growth is sustained despite a high emigration rate; the World Bank as of 2010 estimated that close to a million of Eritreans have emigrated.[1]

The nation has nine recognized ethnic groups.[2] According to SIL Ethnologue, the Tigrinya make up about 50% of the population; the Tigre, who also speak a South Semitic language, constitute around 30% of residents. Most of the rest of the population belong to other Afro-Asiatic-speaking communities of the Cushitic branch. Additionally, there are a number of Arabic, Nilo-Saharan and Italian-speaking ethnic minorities.[2][3]

A majority of Eritrea's population adheres to Abrahamic religions. Estimates of the number Christians vary from 50% to 63%; they predominantly belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Between 36% to 50% of the population is Muslim, mainly following the Sunni denomination.

Ethno-linguistic groups

Ethno-Demography of Eritrea

Eritrea's population comprises nine recognized ethnic groups, most of whom speak languages from the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[3] The Southern Semitic languages spoken in Eritrea are Tigre, Tigrinya, and the newly recognized Dahlik. Other Afro-Asiatic languages belonging to the Cushitic branch are also widely spoken in the country.[3] The latter include Afar, Beja, Blin and Saho.

In addition, languages belonging to the Nilo-Saharan language family (Kunama and Nara) are spoken as a mother tongue by the Kunama and Nara Nilotic ethnic minorities that live in the north and northwestern part of the country.[3]

The Rashaida speak Arabic, while there are also a number of Italians who speak their native Italian language.

Afro-Asiatic communities

Ethio-Semitic speakers

A Tigrinya wedding.

The Tigrinya constitute one of the Habesha people (Abyssinians) who also inhabit parts of neighboring Ethiopia. The majority of the Tigrinya inhabit the highlands of Eritrea; however, migration to other parts of the country has occurred. Their language is called Tigrinya. They are the largest ethnic group in the country, constituting about 55% of the population.[2] All speakers of Tigrinya in Eritrea are officially referred to as Biher-Tigrinya (or simply, Tigrinya). The predominantly Biher-Tigrinya populated urban centers in Eritrea are the capital Asmara, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Adi Keyh, Adi Quala and Senafe, while there is a significant population of Biher-Tigrinya in other cities including Keren, and Massawa.

The Jeberti people in Eritrea trace descent from early Muslim adherents. The term Jeberti is also locally sometimes used to generically refer to all Islamic inhabitants of the highlands.[4] The Jeberti in Eritrea speak Arabic and Tigrinya.[5] They account for about 10% of the Tigrinya speakers in the nation. The remaining 90% are Christians, so divided: 73% of the Eritrean Orthodox faith, 12% Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic (whose mass is held in Ge'ez as opposed to Latin), and 5% belonging to various Protestant and other Christian denominations, the majority of which belong to the (Lutheran) Evangelical Church of Eritrea.


The Tigre reside in the western lowlands in Eritrea and Sudan. They are a nomadic and pastoralist people, related to the Bihér-Tigrinya and to the Beja people. They are a predominantly Muslim nomadic people who inhabit the northern, western, and coastal lowlands of Eritrea, where they constitute 30% of local residents.[2] Some also inhabit areas in eastern Sudan. 95% of the Tigre people adhere to the Islamic religion Sunni Islam, but there are a small amount of Christians among them as well (often referred to as the Mensaï in Eritrea). Their language is called Tigre.

Cushitic speakers


According to the CIA, the Afar constitute under 5% of the nation's population.[2] They live in the Debubawi Keyih Bahri Region of Eritrea, as well as the Afar Region in Ethiopia, and Djibouti. They speak the Afar language as a mother tongue, and are predominanly Muslim. Afars in Eritrea number about 460,000 individuals, the smallest population out of the countries they reside in. In Djibouti, there are about 480,000 group members, and in Ethiopia, they number approximately 1,300,000.

Saho women in traditional attire.

The Saho represent 4% of Eritrea's population.[2] They principally reside in the Debubawi Keyih Bahri Region and the Northern Red Sea Region of Eritrea. Some also live in adjacent parts of Ethiopia. Their language is called Saho. They are predominantly Muslim, although a few Christians known as the Irob live in the Debub Region of Eritrea and the Tigray region of Ethiopia.


The Bilen in Eritrea represent around 2% of the country's population.[2] They are primarily concentrated in the north-central areas, in and around the city of Keren, and south towards Asmara, the nation's capital. Many of them entered Eritrea from kush (central of Sudan) in the 8th century and settled at Merara then they went to Lalibla and to Lasta finally they returned to Auxum and battled with the natives, aftermath they returned to their main base at Merara The Bilen include adherents of both Islam and Christianity. They speak Bilen as a mother tongue. Christian adherents are mainly urban and have intermingled with the Tigrinya who live in the area. Muslim adherents are mainly rural and have interbred with the adjacent Tigre.


The Beja in Eritrea, or Hedareb, constitute under 5% of local residents.[2] They mainly live along the north-western border with Sudan. Group members are predominantly Muslim and communicate in Hedareb as a first or second language. The Beja also include the Beni-Amer people, who have retained their native Beja language alongside Hedareb.

Nilo-Saharan communities


A Kunama man near Barentu.

According to the CIA, the Kunama constitute around 2% of Eritrea's population.[2] They mainly live in the country's Gash Barka Region, as well as in adjacent parts of Ethiopia's Tigray Region. Many of them reside in the contested border village of Badme. Their language is called Kunama. Although some Kunama still practice traditional beliefs, most are converts to either Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant) or Islam.


The Nara represent under 5% of the nation's population.[2] They principally reside along the south-western border with Sudan and Ethiopia. They are generally Muslim, with a few Christians and some practising their indigenous beliefs. Their language is called Nara.

Other communities


A Rashaida family.

The Rashaida are one of Eritrea's nine recognized ethnic groups. They represent about 2% of Eritrea's population.[2] The Rashaida reside in the northern coastal lowlands of Eritrea and the eastern coasts of Sudan. They are predominantly Muslim and are the only ethnic group in Eritrea to have Arabic as their communal language. The Rashaida first came to Eritrea in the 19th century from the Arabian Coast.[6]


A few monolingual Italian Eritreans remain. As of 2008, they were estimated at 900 people, down from around 38,000 residents at the end of World War II.


Regions of Eritrea

People in Eritrea practice various religions. According to the Pew Research Center (2010), 62.9% of the population are Christian, mostly followers of Oriental Orthodoxy, and to a lesser extent, Roman Catholicism, with the second-largest denomination being Muslims.[7] In general, most local residents who adhere to Christianity live in the Maekel and Debub regions, whereas those who follow Islam predominantly inhabit the Anseba, Northern Red Sea, Southern Red Sea and Gash-Barka regions. A few adherents of traditional faiths can also be found, particularly in the lowlands.

Region Population Christians Muslims Other
Maekel Region, ዞባ ማእከል 1,053,254 87% 13% 1%
Debub Region, ዞባ ደቡብ 1,476,765 86% 14% <1%
Gash-Barka Region, ዞባ ጋሽ ባርካ 1,103,742 31% 69% 1%
Anseba Region, ዞባ ዓንሰባ 893,587 32% 68% <1%
Northern Red Sea Region,
Semienawi Keyih Bahri ዞባ ሰሜናዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ
897,454 12% 87% <1%
Southern Red Sea Region,
Debubawi Keyih Bahri ዞባ ደቡባዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ
398,073 37% 62% <1%


According to the 2012 revision of the UN's World Population Prospects, the total population of Eritrea was at 5.74 million in 2010 (compared to 3.27 million in 1990). Population growth rate during 2005–2010 was estimated at 3.2% p.a.

In the 2010s, worsening conditions have fuelled migration pressure, with Eritreans trying to reach Europe illegally in boats reaching desperate proportions in 2013.[8]

The proportion of children below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.6%, 55.9% was between 15 and 65 years of age, while 2.5% was 65 years or older.[9]
Total population (x 1000) Population aged 0–14 (%) Population aged 15–64 (%) Population aged 65+ (%)
1950 1 141 45.3 51.5 3.2
1955 1 264 44.9 52.1 3.0
1960 1 424 44.8 52.5 2.8
1965 1 619 44.7 52.7 2.6
1970 1 847 45.3 52.2 2.5
1975 2 115 45.4 52.1 2.5
1980 2 469 47.1 49.1 3.8
1985 2 806 47.8 49.2 3.0
1990 3 158 46.3 51.1 2.6
1995 3 213 47.0 50.5 2.5
2000 3 668 44.9 52.7 2.4
2005 4 486 42.0 55.7 2.4
2010 5 254 41.6 55.9 2.5

UN medium variant population projections as of 2010 expected a radically reduced growth rate of 2.0% during the 2020s and of 1.8% during the 2030s.[9] This was corrected as too optimistic an outlook in the 2012 edition, which now expected a more pessimistic, but still declining growth rate of 2.7% during the 2020s (10.3 million in 2030) and of 2.4% during the 2030s (13 million in 2040).[10]

Vital statistics

Registration of vital events in Eritrea is incomplete. The Population Department of the United Nations prepared the following estimates:[9]
Period Live births per year Deaths per year Natural change per year CBR* CDR* NC* TFR* IMR*
1950-1955 58 000 34 000 24 000 48.4 28.0 20.4 6.97 176
1955-1960 66 000 35 000 31 000 49.2 25.7 23.4 6.97 163
1960-1965 74 000 36 000 38 000 48.5 23.6 24.9 6.82 151
1965-1970 83 000 38 000 45 000 47.6 21.7 25.9 6.70 139
1970-1975 91 000 39 000 52 000 46.1 19.7 26.3 6.52 133
1975-1980 103 000 43 000 60 000 45.1 18.9 26.2 6.50 127
1980-1985 112 000 54 000 58 000 42.4 20.5 21.9 6.50 116
1985-1990 123 000 52 000 71 000 41.1 17.3 23.9 6.31 104
1990-1995 127 000 45 000 83 000 40.0 14.1 25.9 6.08 90
1995-2000 131 000 38 000 93 000 38.1 11.1 27.0 5.66 73
2000-2005 157 000 39 000 118 000 38.4 9.5 28.9 5.19 62
2005-2010 183 000 40 000 143 000 37.5 8.3 29.3 4.68 54
* CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births; TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman)

Fertility and Births

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) (Wanted Fertility Rate) and Crude Birth Rate (CBR):[11]

Year CBR (Total) TFR (Total) CBR (Urban) TFR (Urban) CBR (Rural) TFR (Rural)
1995 37,5 6,10 (5,7) 29,3 4,23 (3,8) 40,3 6,99 (6,5)
2002 32 4,8 (4,4) 28 3,5 (3,1) 35 5,7 (5,3)

Demographic statistics

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated. Population: 5,060,620 Age structure:
0–14 years: 42.9% (male 1,085,116/female 1,072,262)
15–64 years: 53.5% (male 1,332,349/female 1,355,494)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 88,068/female 95,186) (2008 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.445% (2011 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15–64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.93 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2008 est.)

Fertility rate: According to 2002 official survey, fertility rate was 4.8 with 3.5 in urban and 5.7 in rural.[12]

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 68.8 years
male: 66.7 years
female: 70.9 years (2010 est.)

noun: Eritrean(s)
adjective: Eritrean

Ethnic groups: There are 9 ethnic groups: Afar, Bilen, Hedareb (Beja), Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Saho, Tigre and Tigrinya.

Planning Office, Ministry of Education, Asmara, Eritrea (1996):[13] Tigrinya 50%, Tigre 31.0%, Saho 5.0%, Afar 5.0%, Hedareb (Beja) 2.5%, Rashaida 2.4%, Bilen 2.0%, Kunama 2.0%, and Nara 1.5%.

Religions: Eritrean Orthodox, Sunni Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant (see Religion in Eritrea)

Languages: Afar, Arabic (spoken by the Rashaida), Beja (spoken by the Hedareb), Blin, Kunama, Nara, Saho, Tigre, Tigrinya, as a second language. English, Italian and Arabic are the foremost second languages.

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 70%
male: 68%
female: 72% (2011 est.)

See also


  1. ^ Bilateral Estimates of Migrant Stocks in 2010 estimates 942,000 emigrants, of whom 450,000 migrated to Sudan and 290,000 to Ethiopia. C.f. the World' Bank's Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Why they leave -- Eritreans are taking to the seas because of worsening conditions at home 12 October 2013. "Some 30,000 people reached Italy illegally in boats in the first nine months of 2013, three times as many as in the whole of 2012, according to Frontex, [...] the largest batch came from Eritrea, a country that has supposedly been at peace for the past 13 years." Emigration has left Eritrea ‘desolate’, say bishops", Catholic Herald, 6 September 2014.
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ Based on an a-priori assumption of worldwide "convergence towards low fertility". "World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision"[1], "Methodology", p. 15: "The 2012 Revision drew on new empirical evidence on fertility levels and trends that became available since the publication of the 2010 Revision. The empirical evidence from available surveys and the 2010 round of censuses has provided the basis for a reassessment of fertility levels and trends experienced within the last decade. In a number of countries, particularly in Africa, slower than expected fertility declines or even stalled fertility was observed. In some cases, increases in total fertility were also recorded. This led to the decision not to apply the additional adjustment that was used in the 2010 Revision for a small number of countries at the very early stage of their fertility transition (for example, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia) or that had experienced recent fertility stalling (for example, Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). For these countries, the recent fertility decline has been much slower than typically experienced in the past decades by other countries at similar levels of fertility, and the additional adjustment would have delayed any potential future decline, implying even more population growth than already anticipated with the standard assumption."
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Tekle M. Woldemikael, "Language, Education, and Public Policy in Eritrea" in African Studies Review, vol. 46, p. 120, 2003.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2008 edition".

External links

  • Languages in Eritrea
  • Ethnic groups in Eritrea
  • [2]
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