Laos Population and Economy


There are four major ethnic groups, each with its own language. Lao-tai can be found throughout the Laotian territory, especially in the highlands, which is divided into black tai and red tai (predominant colors in women’s clothing). The Lao-theng tribe, who are supposed to be descendants of the primitive residents of the region, are also spread throughout the country and in neighboring countries. In contrast, in the lowlands, cities and near the Mekong River, live the Lao-Lu, who speak Laotian Tai. Lastly, the lao-soung group.

In religious matters, there are 57.8% Buddhists, 33.6% animists (especially from the lao-theng group), 3.8% non-religious, 1.5% Christians and 1% Muslims. The vast majority of the population practice Theravada Buddhism. The Chinese and Vietnamese minorities especially practice Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism.

According to, the official language is Laotian, although the privileged minorities in the cities also speak English, French and Vietnamese. Almost all Laotian cities are in the Mekong River Valley, except Luang Prabang. In 1978, the capital, Vientiane, had 200,000 residents. Laos urban areas are home to only a small percentage (less than 15%) of the residents.

Political strife has affected Laos’ population rate, which decreased from 2.2% a year from 1970 to 1975 to 1% in the late 1970s. The migratory movement of the population to China, Vietnam and Thailand has also contributed to this phenomenon. One of the main concerns of the government that took power in 1975 was to repopulate the country; thus, in 1976, birth control methods were banned.

Thousands of Laotians fled civil war and famine during the 1970s and 1980s, taking refuge in Thailand. More than 90,000 Laotian refugees remained in January of 1989 in the border camps in Thailand. In 1980, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a voluntary repatriation program, which nine years later had re-entered the country to 5,357 people, adding to this figure another 15,000 who returned independently.

Economic development

Agriculture contributed 26% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012 and employed 72.4% of workers in 1988. The main crops are rice (which occupies 78% of the arable land), corn, cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes and coffee for export. Pigs, poultry, cattle and fish are raised. In 1987, revenue from timber exports quadrupled (to $ 32.8 million). In 1989 However, deforestation led to a ban on the export of uncontrolled wood.

Industry (7% of labor capacity in 1980) and manufacturing (less than 1%) were underdeveloped. There are considerable mineral resources, mainly tin and gypsum. To a lesser extent, lead, zinc, coal, potassium, iron ore and small deposits of gold, silver and precious stones are mined.

The abundant hydroelectric power, which is exported to Thailand, is one of the main sources of foreign exchange (21.3% of total export income in 1987). Laos imports all the mineral fuels it consumes. Its main trading partners were the USSR, Thailand and Japan. The largest exports in 1987 were logs and wood products (51.1% of the total), electricity, coffee, tin, and gypsum. Mainly food, mineral fuels, machinery and transportation equipment were imported.

The economy was affected by the changes in Eastern Europe, since its development depended heavily on aid from the USSR and Vietnam. In the late 1980s, the government was forced to change its planned economy to a market economy, allowed the establishment of small private companies and ended the state monopoly on banking. In 1988 foreign investment was encouraged, allowing companies with 100% foreign capital to settle in the country, and companies with mixed capital to be created.

This plan aimed to reduce the balance of payments deficit by improving infrastructure, promoting exports, and encouraging industries to substitute imports. The serious economic crisis suffered by the USSR drastically reduced financial aid to Laos, which tried to reduce its dependence on the member countries of the now-defunct CAME and Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Laotian government hoped to strengthen economic ties with neighboring Thailand, Japan and the countries of the European Community.

In Laos there were no railroads. The road network (the main means of transport, used by 90% of freight traffic and 85% of passenger traffic) totaled 12,983 km in 1985. The Mekong River (a considerable part of its western border) is the most important commercial artery. largest in the country. The main airport is Wattai, in Vientiane. In 1988 the entry of Western tourists was allowed for the first time.

Laos Economy