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With a total population of 82.8 million in mid-2009(1), Ethiopia is the fourteenth most populous country in the world and the second most populous country in Africa, following Nigeria, which has a population of 152.6 million.  Ethiopia's population has grown rapidly in recent years and, at an annual growth rate of 2.7%, the population is expected to reach 113 million by 2025 and 149.5 million by 2050(2).  Nearly half of the population (49.7%) is female.

The average household size is 4.8(3).  84% of the total population lives in rural areas, making Ethiopia one of the least urbanised countries in the world.  Of those living in urban areas, 82% have inadequate accommodation, living in what are considered to be slums.  

As in many other developing countries, the rate of growth of the urban population (4.3%) is much higher than that of the total population (2.7%).  Rapid population growth exacerbates critical gaps in basic health services especially when growth of the economy is low or per capita incomes are in decline.

The average population density is 75 per square km(4), with great variation among regions.  Higher densities are found in the highland areas, mostly above the 1,500m contour line.  About 23% of the population is concentrated on 9% of the land area putting pressure on cultivable land and contributing to environmental degradation.  On the other hand, roughly 50 percent of the land area represents sparsely populated areas with nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoral people living in arid plains or in a semi-desert environment.  The settlement pattern of the population and its density greatly affect the provision of health care including the accessibility and utilisation of existing health care facilities.

The structure of the population of Ethiopia shows the dominance of the young as is typical of many developing countries.  About 43% of the population comprises those under the age of 15 years; 54% between the ages of 15 and 65 years and only 3% aged over 65.  A large proportion of women (24%) are in the reproductive age (15-49 years).  The main characteristic of the Ethiopian population is, therefore, its youthfulness, with children (0-14 years) and youths (15-24 years) together accounting for almost 64 percent of the total.

Total fertility rate for the country is high with 5.3 children per woman.  The level of fertility is significantly lower in urban (TFR 3.3) compared to rural (TFR 6.4) areas of the country.  Fertility is highest in the Oromiya Region (6.4 births per woman) and lowest in Addis Ababa (1.9 births per woman).

The overall dependency ratio for the country is estimated as 85.9 dependents per 100 people in the working age group 15-64. The impact of HIV/AIDS has also been exacerbating the dependency ratio by depleting the productive group of the population.


Ethiopia's population is highly diverse. Most of its people speak a Semitic or Cushitic language. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans make up more than three-quarters of the population, but there are more than 77 different ethnic groups with their own distinct languages within Ethiopia.  Some of these have as few as 10,000 members.  In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions tend to inhabit lowland regions.  English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is taught in all secondary schools.  Amharic is the official language and was the language of primary school instruction but has been replaced in many areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya.


Population Reference Bureau/Ethiopia (
EDHS 2000
MOH (2003/04) Health and Health Related Indicators
CSA (2000)
PRB (2007) Op Cit.



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