Population: In 2005 Kazakhstan’s population was estimated at 15,185,844, of which about 52 percent was female. Population density was 5.9 persons per square kilometer. Some 56 percent of the population lives in urban areas, and the population is heavily concentrated in the northeast and southeast. Because the annual growth rate has been negligible in the early 2000s, population growth is a critical issue for policy makers. Although in recent years a large number of legal and illegal immigrant workers have come to Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in 2005 the estimated net migration rate was –3.34 individuals per 1,000 population.
Demography: In 2005 some 23.7 percent of the population was younger than 15 years of age, and 7.9 percent was older than 64. The birthrate was 15.8 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 9.5 per 1,000 population. The overall fertility rate was 1.9 births per woman. The infant mortality rate was 29.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth was 61.2 years for males and 72.2 years for females.
Ethnic Groups: According to the 1999 census, 53.4 percent of inhabitants were Kazakh, 30 percent Russian, 3.7 percent Ukrainian, 2.5 percent Uzbek, 2.4 percent German, and 1.4 percent Uyghur. In 1991 the Kazakh and Russian populations were approximately equal. Between 1989 and 1999, 1.5 million Russians and 500,000 Germans (more than half the German population) left Kazakhstan, causing concern over the loss of technical expertise provided by those groups. The Kazakh population is predominantly rural, and the Russian population is mainly urban.
Languages: Kazakh and Russian are official languages for commercial purposes. Kazakh, spoken by 64.4 percent of the population, is the official “state” language, and Russian, spoken by 95 percent of the population, is designated as the “language of interethnic communication.”
Religion: Some 47 percent of Kazakhs are Muslims, primarily Sunni Muslims; 44 percent are Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent are Protestant. Because the Muslims of Kazakhstan developed their religion in isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, there are significant differences from conventional Shiite and Sunni practices. For example, the teachings of the Quran are much less central to the Kazakh version of Islam.
Education and Literacy: Education is mandatory between ages seven and 15. Primary school is a four-year period, followed by five years of mandatory general secondary school. Two years of specialized secondary school are optional. Beginning in the early 1990s, the primary language of instruction shifted from Russian to Kazakh, although in 2005 many institutions still were instructing in Russian. Between 1996 and 2002, the number of students in higher education increased from 281,000 to 515,000. However, the public education system has declined since the Soviet era, in part because of insufficient funding and in part because the emigration of Russian and German scientific experts has depleted the teaching corps in the technical fields. Beginning in 1999, government spending on education declined as a percentage of gross domestic product. Programs to restructure the Soviet-era education system have not been completed. Although the number of private education institutions doubled between 1996 and 2001, by 2001 that sector included only 7 percent of students, almost all at the higher education level. In 2003 some 177 institutions of higher learning were in operation, with 598,000 enrolled students. According to the 1999 census, Kazakhstan’s literacy rate was 97.5 percent.
Health: In principle, health care is free. However, bribes often are necessary to obtain needed care. The quality of health care has declined in the post-Soviet era because of insufficient funding and the loss of technical experts through emigration. Between 1989 and 2001, the ratio of doctors per 10,000 inhabitants fell by 15 percent, to 34.6, and the ratio of hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants fell by 46 percent to 74. Since 1991, health care has consistently lacked adequate government funding; in 2002 only 1.9 percent of gross domestic product went for that purpose. Wages for health workers are low, and equipment is in critically short supply. The main foreign source of medical equipment is Japan. The health system is in crisis in rural regions such as the Aral Sea region, where health is most affected by pollution. The most common diseases are respiratory infections, cardiovascular conditions, and tuberculosis. Since 2000, the incidence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has increased, as has the incidence of environment-linked cancers. In 2003 an estimated 23,000 citizens had HIV. An estimated 80 percent of those cases were narcotics-related. Prevention and treatment services are not widely available for HIV victims; the National Strategic Plan allocated a total of US$2.7 million for HIV/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) treatment for 2001–5. A compulsory health insurance system has been under consideration for several years.
Welfare: Although the 1995 constitution retained many Soviet-era social protections, the state’s funding level and service bureaucracies have not been able to provide adequate benefits for retirees, the disabled, the unemployed, orphans, and the infirm and elderly. Pension payments have been in arrears because of a demographic imbalance between pension contributors and pension recipients, and because of tax collection failures. In 1997 the government began replacing its inefficient pay-as-you-go pension system with individual pension funds overseen by the National Bank of Kazakhstan. By 2005 nearly all funds were privately run, under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection. In 2005 some 85 percent of Kazakhstan’s workers were participating, and the system—the first private pension system in the Commonwealth of Independent States—had US$3.7 billion in assets. Employees and the self-employed pay 10 percent of their income into mandatory retirement accounts. In 2004 social security and public assistance received 24.4 percent of state budget allocations. According to government figures, between 2000 and 2002 the percentage of the population falling below the poverty line declined from 34.5 percent to 24.2 percent, as average monthly earnings increased by 32 percent. In 2004 the population below the poverty line was estimated at 19 percent. However, rural poverty is deeply entrenched.