Saudi Arabia Social Data

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In July 2006, estimates placed Saudi Arabia’s population at 27,019,731, with an annual growth rate of 2.18 percent. The population total includes nearly 6 million non-nationals. Approximately 100,000 foreigners enter the country each year, mostly to fill specific job openings. Immigrant workers come primarily from other Arab and Muslim countries, including many from South Asia and the Philippines. Fewer than 100,000 Westerners work and live in Saudi Arabia. Because most of the terrain is unsuitable for cultivation, the coastal areas and interior oases support the vast majority of the population. Some cities have reported densities of 1,000 people per square kilometer. The Mecca region, which also contains the major city of Jiddah, is the most populated area of the country, with nearly 26 percent of the total population. Other population centers include Riyadh and the clustered Eastern Province cities of Ad Dammam, Khobar, and Dhahran. The least populated regions lie at the kingdom’s periphery, to the extreme north and south.

Saudi Arabia has an overwhelmingly young population. According to 2006 estimates, 38.2 percent of Saudis are under the age of 15, 59.4 percent are 15–64 years of age, and only 2.4 percent are 65 and older. The median age for males is 22.9, for females 19.4. The sex ratio is 1.2 males/female. The birthrate and death rate are estimated to be 29.34 per 1,000 and 2.58 per 1,000, respectively. Saudi Arabia has a relatively low infant mortality rate, estimated to be 13.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. It has a relatively high level of life expectancy: 73.66 years for males and 77.78 years for females, or 75.67 years overall. The country’s fertility rate is 4.1 children per woman, a significant drop in the past 20 years from 6.4 births per woman in 1985.

Ethnic Groups and Languages:
Saudi Arabia’s population is very homogeneous. The native population is 90 percent Arab and 10 percent Afro-Asian. Arabic is the official language.

Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Islamic law forms the basis for the country’s legal code, and all citizens must be Muslim. Eighty-five percent of Saudis are Sunni Muslims, most adhering to the Wahhabi sect. About 2 million Shia Muslims live in Saudi Arabia, primarily in the east. The presence of religions besides Islam results almost exclusively from the presence of foreign nationals, including a sizable number of Hindus and Christians. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million Catholics currently reside in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the Saudi government has stated a policy of allowing non-Muslim foreigners to practice their religion privately, but no change in the law reflects this sentiment. Public worship of other religions is prohibited by law and regulated and punished by the state’s Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Proselytizing by non-Muslims and by non-Sunni Muslims is strictly prohibited. Conversion from Wahhabi Islam to another religion is a crime. The government controls all mosques and is the direct employer of imams. It also operates centers designed to facilitate the conversion of foreigners to Islam. Non-Sunni Muslims are largely eliminated from consideration for government employment and educational opportunities.

Education and Literacy:
The U.S. Department of State estimates the Saudi literacy rate to be 84.7 percent for males and 77.8 percent for females. Saudi Arabia’s nationwide public education system includes eight public universities and more than 20,000 schools. Public education—from elementary through high school—is a major government priority and is open and free to every citizen. In 2005 the government devoted 25 percent of total expenditures to education. Parents are not, however, required to send their children to school. Estimates from 2001 suggest that 59 percent of age-relevant children enroll in primary education. About 61 percent of those eligible attend intermediate and secondary schools, according to 1996 data. Education remains closely tied to Islamic teachings. All curricula must conform to Islamic laws and the Quran, and traditional gender roles still limit the educational opportunities available to females. The education of females has increased dramatically in recent years, from 25 percent of all students in 1970 to 47.5 percent in 2001. However, classroom instruction remains strictly segregated. Additionally, women can only attend six of the nation’s eight universities, and they are prohibited from studying certain subjects. Whereas men may travel to foreign countries to pursue education, women are discouraged from doing so and generally must be accompanied by a spouse or male relative.

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Health benefits for Saudi citizens have increased exponentially since the implementation of the first five-year development plan in 1970. Today, according to the Saudi government, every citizen has access to unlimited, free medical care. The government provides the bulk of financing to build and operate hospitals throughout the country. As of 2006, the Saudi Ministry of Health operated 62 percent of the country’s hospitals and 53 percent of its nonurgent-care centers. Expenditures for health and social services account for about 13 percent of the government’s 2006 budget. Although spending has increased, management problems have hindered coordination among the various state, private, and military health care providers.

Saudi Arabia has a two-tiered health care system. A series of clinics, many of them mobile units that serve the country’s remote rural towns, provide minor and preventative health care. Most of the doctors in the country are not Saudi?only about 20 percent according to recent estimates. Government officials expect this number to increase as education for doctors improves in the country. Saudi Arabia’s medical advances can be seen clearly in the increasing number of specialized service providers. As recently as 1980, most Saudi hospitals provided only general medical care, but in May 2006 Saudi Arabia terminated its long-standing practice of sending patients to the United States for more complicated procedures. Government attention instead has focused on continuing to improve Saudi facilities and expertise.

Statistics indicate a relatively high level of health in Saudi Arabia. According to 2002 estimates, there are 1.5 doctors and 2.3 hospital beds per 1,000 persons. Nearly the entire Saudi population has access to sanitation, and 95 percent of Saudis have access to clean water. Similarly, nearly 100 percent of the population has access to affordable essential drugs. The immunization rate for children approaches 100 percent. For example, immunization against tuberculosis and measles has increased to 94 percent of all one-year-olds. Of births occurring in 2002, 91 percent were attended by a trained health professional.

The Saudi government does not release comprehensive health statistics, but United Nations estimates on human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) for 2006 place the adult prevalence rate at less than 0.02 percent. Since 1985, Saudi Arabia has nearly eradicated diphtheria, poliomyelitis, whooping cough, and measles. Tuberculosis and hepatitis B have proved more difficult to eliminate. The health status of women and children has attracted some concern from international organizations. Health workers report that physical spousal abuse and violence against women and children appear to be common problems. A 2003 report by the Saudi Ministry of Interior estimated that 21 percent of females suffered some form of abuse. To address this problem, the Saudi government has now mandated that hospitals report any suspicions of violence against women, domestic or otherwise, to law enforcement officials.

Among developing nations, as categorized by the United Nations in 2005, Saudi Arabia ranks thirty-second out of 103 countries on the Human Poverty Index (an assessment of standard of living), ahead of most of its Middle East neighbors, and seventy-seventh out of 177 nations on the Human Development Index (a comparative measure of well-being and child welfare). Through its series of five-year development plans, Saudi Arabia continues to try to transform oil wealth into broader economic prosperity. But despite high oil prices and rising oil production, the average Saudi’s standard of living has fallen, and unemployment, especially among young adults, continues to rise. Moreover, the perception that oil revenues are not equitably distributed throughout the population continues to create some social discontent. Saudi Arabia’s General Organization for Social Insurance, a semi-state body, was established in 1969. A 9 percent payroll tax funds social insurance programs. Saudi businesses and individuals are also responsible to the Ministry of Finance for the zakat (almsgiving), the Islamic tithe of 2.5 percent of one’s net worth. Old-age pensions are paid to retired workers at a rate of 2.5 percent of the last average salary. Men must be 60 years of age and women 55 in order to begin receiving payments. Additionally, all Saudis are granted a plot of land and a small loan to build a house.

~Library of Congress, 2006~

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