Population: 14,848,364 (according to 1981 census);
16,639,695 (estimated 1988). Average annual growth rate 1.37
percent; average life expectancy 67.5 years (males 66 years,
females 69 years); gender ratio 103.7 males to 100 females.
Ethnic Groups: Sinhalese 74 percent; Tamil 18 percent;
Moor (Muslims) 7 percent; others (Burghers, Eurasians, Malay,
Veddha) 1 percent. Largest ethnic group divided into low-country
Sinhalese (subjected in coastal areas to greater colonial
acculturation) and Kandyan Sinhalese (more traditional upland
dwellers, named after Kingdom of Kandy, which resisted European
encroachments until 1815-18). Tamils divided into Sri Lankan
Tamils (on island since early historic times) and Indian Tamils
(brought in as plantation labor in the nineteenth century).
Languages: Sinhalese speak Sinhala (official language);
Tamils speak Tamil (equal with Sinhala as official language since
July 29, 1987); English spoken in government and educated circles
by about 10 percent of population.
Education and Literacy: Schooling organized in four
levels: primary (six years), junior secondary (five years),
senior secondary (two years), and tertiary (at least two years).
Education compulsory to age thirteen, free in government schools,
and fee paid in private institutions. Number of students enrolled
(1986) about 3.75 million (government) and 101,000 (private).
Government expenditure on education (1986) about 3.6 million
rupees (see Glossary).
Overall literacy (over age 10) about 87
Religion: Theravada Buddhist, 69 percent; Hindu, 15
percent; Christian, 8 percent; Muslim, 8 percent. Sinhalese
generally Buddhist; Tamils Hindu; Burghers, Eurasians, and
minority of Sinhalese and Tamils profess Christianity; Moors
adherents of Islam.
Health and Welfare: Nationwide health care system,
including maternity services provided by government, but
facilities and personnel overtaxed, supplies and equipment
lacking; medical infrastructure consists of more than 3,000
Western-trained physicians, 8,600 nurses, 338 central
dispensaries, and 490 hospitals of all types. Smallpox
eradicated; incidence of malaria declining; unsanitary conditions
and lack of clean water major cause of gastroenteritis among
adults and infants. Death rate declined from 6.6 to 6.1 per 1,000
in decade from mid-1970s to mid-1980s; infant mortality declined
from 50 to 34 deaths per 1,000 in decade from early 1970s to
early 1980s. Traditional medicine (ayurveda), supported by
government, enjoys great credibility.
Data as of October 1988