Census and population

Laos’ total population was estimated by the United Nations Population Fund at 6.9 million in 2017, with an annual population growth of 1.3 percent.1The last formal census was carried out in 2015. All the data referenced here is from the official 2015 Census of Population and Housing of Lao PDR.2 


Demographic factors such as population size and composition, life expectancy, mortality rate and literacy rate are presented as visualizations below.

Just under 58 percent of individuals aged 6+ have left school, 26.9 percent are currently at school and 13.1 percent have never attended school. Opportunity gaps exist between rural and urban populations, and many ethnic groups do not consider education to be beneficial or necessary.3 

Marital status is broken down into five categories. 29.4 percent have never married, 63.5 percent are married, 2.5 percent are either divorced or separated, 4.1 percent are widowed, and 0.6 percent are in a consensual union. The total fertility rate was 3.2 percent in 2015, and the crude birth rate (per 1,000 persons) was 28 percent.4 

Some key statistics:5 

  • Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the population are working age (15–64), with 33 percent younger than 15 and 4 percent 65 and older
  • Life expectancy at birth is 62 for men and 65 for women
  • Secondary school enrollment (calculated by the net percent of secondary school-age children) is 52 percent for men and 50 percent for women.
  • The population density is 27 people/km2 in average, where the Capital City of Vientiane is the most populated area by 209 people/km2. This is followed by flatlands along Mekong river and its tributaries like Savannakhet and Champassak.
  • Among 49 main ethnic groups, Lao ethnic group (Lao Tai) is the most dominated which accounted for 53 percent, followed by Khamu 11 percent, and Hmong 9 percent.


Migration in Lao PDR can be broken into three main categories – internal, outgoing (emigration), and incoming (immigration). Internal migration, specifically rural-urban migration, is prominent in the country, as seen through higher population growth rates in urban areas.6 Vientiane Capital is the most popular destination – 4 out of 10 people in the city were reported to be internal migrants. Internal migration is female-dominated, with 59.2 percent of internal migrants reported as women.7 Motivations for moving within the country vary from person to person; 28 percent were seeking employment, business opportunities, or workplace transfers. 18.3 percent claimed family reasons, 14.9 percent desired increased access to educational facilities, and 10 percent cited marriage purposes.8

Low-skilled workers make up most of the Lao emigrant population. Those leaving the country normally are in search of employment in industries like agriculture, construction, and domestic work.9 Destinations are commonly the neighboring countries Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar. On the other hand, immigration is becoming increasingly prominent.10 Immigrant workers are entering Lao PDR from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar, adding to approximately 200,000 migrant workers in the country. Most workers are in the construction sector, reflecting the preferences of Chinese and Vietnamese investors.

Another category under migration, although not as prevalent, is the presence of foreign nationals in Lao PDR and Lao nationals residing elsewhere. In 2017, UNDESA reported that approximately 45,500 foreign nationals were residing in the country. In the same report, over 1.3 million Lao citizens were indicated to be residing abroad.11


The Lao Statistics Bureau, which falls under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, last conducted the Population and Housing Census (PHC) on March 1st, 2015.12 In order to conduct the 2015 Population and Housing Census, the government provided approximately half of its funding for the first time. Prior to the Final Report, the Provisional Report13 was released in December 2015.

Censuses are conducted every 10 years, with previous censuses conducted in 2005, 1995, and 1985. Those included in the census are: all Lao citizens living in the country, Lao citizens temporary living abroad, and foreign citizens residing in Laos at the time of the census. In future years, new statistics surveys will collect socio-economic data. These include: the Lao Social Indicator Survey, Lao Expenditure and Consumption Survey, Economic Survey, and Labor Force Survey.

The PHC is the largest statistical operation in the country and records:

  • Total fertility
  • Total mortality
  • Religion and ethnic composition
  • Education and literacy
  • Migration
  • Disability
  • Housing conditions
  • Economic activity
  • Age and sex composition 

*Note: 1985 census information is not included because the data was not released or made public.  






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