What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Laos?

By Geoffrey Migiro on July 29 2019 in Society

A woman and child from the Hmong minority group in Laos.
A woman and child from the Hmong minority group in Laos.

Laos is a country on the Indochinese peninsula. It is the only landlocked state in Southeast Asia. Laos is bordered by Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Myanmar. Laos is the eighty-second largest state on the planet and it occupies an area of about 91,875 square miles. Laos can trace its cultural and historical uniqueness to the Lan-Xang-Hom-Khao kingdom. 

Laos has a population of about 7,096,376 people and a population density of approximately 69.2 individuals per square mile. The country's population grew from 1.7 million (1950) to 6.8 million (2016). A considerable percentage of the population resides on the valleys of River Mekong and its branches. Vientiane (largest and capital city of Laos) had a population of about 740,010 people in 2008. 

Ethnic Groups of Laos 

The government identified 149 ethnic groups in the 47 main ethnicities in the country when they did the 1995 census. The list was revised by the LFNC (Lao-Front for National Construction) to include 49 ethnicities with more than 160 ethnic groups. These 160 ethnic groups speak about 82 distinct languages. The largest ethnic group in Laos is the Lao (53.2%), followed by the Khmou (11%), and the Hmongs (9.2%). There are over 100 minor ethnic groups in Laos, which made up about 26% of the population in 2005. The residents of Laos are known as Laotians. The phrase "Laotians" doesn't refer to the ethnic Lao people or Lao languages. It is a political phrase that applies to all the citizens of Laos. The Laotians are considered by their altitudinal-distribution (upper high lands, midlands, and lowlands). The highland people, also known as Lao Soung, include the Shan, Dao, Yao, and the Hmong among others. Some of the groups living in southern and central mountains (the midland people) are the Mon-Khmer tribes. The Lao people live in the lowlands.

Lao People

The Laotians or Lao people are a Tai ethnic-group indigenous to the southeastern parts of Asia. The Lao people speak the eponymous language. The Lao is the largest ethnic group in the country which had over 3,427,665 members in 2015. The population of the Lao people has increased from 1,804,101 in 1985 to 3,427,665 in 2015.

Khmu People

The Khmu are the largest minority group in Laos, comprising 11% of the country's population. Over 88% of the Khmu people live in the northern parts of the country. The Khmu are the native inhabitants of northern Laos. The Tai people displaced the Khmu to Lao Theung (higher grounds) where they practice swidden farming. There are over 568,000 Khmu people on the planet, and this includes the more than 500,000 people living in Laos, 10,000 (China), and 73,000 (Vietnam). 


The Hmong community is an ethnic group of Southeast and East Asia. The Hmong are the sub-group of the Miao people that resides in Laos, Vietnam, and Southern China. About 595,028 Hmong people were living in Laos by 2015. The Hmong originated from the Yellow River area of China. Martha Ratliff, claims that there is linguistic evidence suggesting that the Hmongs have occupied some parts of Southern China for more than 500 years. The conflict between them and the Han people led to the Hmongs migrating to Southeast Asia.


The dominant and official language of Laos is the Lao language, which is spoken natively by over half of the population. The Lao alphabet was derived from the Kmer-script and is quite similar to Thai. Other languages like the Hmong and Khmu are used widely by the minorities in the highland and midland regions. French is used in commerce and government. French is compulsory for all students in Laos. All the signages in the country are bilingual (French and Lao).


Buddhism has been one of the most important social forces in the country, with over 64.7% of the population being Theravada Buddhists as of 2018. Over 1.7% of the residents are Christians, while 31.5% of the locals practice other religions, including the Satsana Phi.

What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Laos?

RankEthnic groupPercentage of total population
5Tai 3.1%
7 Katong2.2%
10other 11.6%

More in Society