Population: Thailand’s population was estimated at 65,444,371 in July 2005, making it the nineteenth most populous country in the world. The population growth rate was estimated in 2005 at 0.87 percent. The net migration rate, also based on a 2005 estimate, is 0 percent. In 2003, 68 percent of the population lived in rural areas and 32 percent in urban areas. The largest population, according to 2000 census data, was in the northeast, with 20.7 million inhabitants and a population density of 122.9 persons per square kilometer. The central region, excluding Bangkok, had the next largest population in 2000, with 14 million inhabitants and a density of 137.8 persons per square kilometer. Bangkok itself had a population of 6.3 million inhabitants and a population density of 4,038 persons per square kilometer. The mountainous north had nearly 11.4 million people, with a density of 67 persons per square kilometer, while the south had 8 million people and a density of 113.9 persons per square kilometer.
Demography: According to estimates of Thailand’s age structure for 2005, 23.9 percent of inhabitants are less than 15 years of age, 68.6 percent are 15–64 years of age, and 7.5 percent are 65 and older. Estimates made in 2005 indicate a birthrate of 15.7 births per 1,000 population and a death rate of just over 7.0 deaths per 1,000. In 2005 life expectancy was estimated at 73.9 years for women and 69.4 for men, or nearly 71.6 years total. The infant mortality rate was estimated at nearly 20.5 per 1,000 live births in 2005. The total fertility rate for 2005 has been estimated at nearly 1.9 children per woman.
Ethnic Groups: Official government estimates indicate that people of Thai ethnicity make up 80 percent of the population. Another 10 percent are ethnic Chinese, and 3 percent are Malay, leaving 7 percent as uncategorized. Additionally, in 2004 Thailand hosted some 188,400 refugees from Burma, many of them ethnic, non-Thai-speaking Karen who fled their country in the face of fighting between Karen rebels and Burmese troops. An estimated 1 million members of hill tribes, collectively called “highlanders,” live in the northwest. Remnants of 1940s Chinese Nationalist military forces and their descendants and children of Vietnamese immigrants live in northeastern Thailand.
Languages: Nearly 94 percent of the people speak Tai-Kadai (Daic) languages, with Thai (in various dialects) being predominant and the national and official language. Another 2 percent speak Austro-Asiatic languages, 2 percent speak Austronesian languages, 1 percent speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and 0.2 percent speak Hmong-Mien languages. Standard Thai is based on the dialect spoken in the Chao Phraya Valley. The Thai alphabet, with 44 consonants and 32 vowels, originated during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng (r. 1279–98) and is an adaptation of Mon and Khmer scripts derived from Indian Devanagari. Some 74 languages are spoken in Thailand, including numerous Thai dialects plus English, which is the secondary language among the well educated and is widely understood, especially in Bangkok and other large urban areas, where it is a major language of business. Ethnic and regional dialects also are spoken, as are various dialects of Chinese.
Religion: The predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, representing about 95 percent of the practicing population and about 90 percent of all Thai people. Muslims represent 3.8 percent; Christians, 0.5 percent; Hindus, 0.1 percent; and Sikhs, Baha’i Faith, and others, 0.6 percent. Section 73 of the constitution states that the state shall patronize and protect Buddhism and other religions, promote harmony among the followers of all religions, and encourage the application of religious principles “to create virtue and develop the quality of life.”
Education and Literacy: The Ministry of Education supervises public and private education. Starting in October 2002, the education system offered 12 years of free basic education to students nationwide: six years of primary education beginning at age six or seven, followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school, ending at age 18. Education has been compulsory through the ninth grade (from age seven to 16) since January 2003. With the addition of two years of pre-primary schooling, the length of education was extended to 14 years in May 2004. In 2004 an estimated 96 percent of students completed grade six, and 48 percent completed grade 12. In 2004 more than 8.8 million students were enrolled in 32,413 primary, middle, and high schools; 631,000 students were enrolled in 612 vocational education institutions. Thailand also has 20 state universities, 12 of which are in Bangkok, plus 26 private universities and colleges and some 120 other institutions of higher education. Some 1.9 million students were enrolled in postsecondary education in 2003–4. About half of all university graduates were women in 2004. The literacy rate in Thailand is 92.6 percent.
Health: Data on health care are out of date, but in 1995 Thailand had 0.2 physicians and 1.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population. In 2001 spending on health care amounted to US$254 in purchasing power parity (PPP) per person, representing about 3.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Of this amount, 57.1 percent came from public sources and 42.9 percent from private sources. Some 85 percent of the population had access to potable water in 2002, and 99 percent had access to sanitation. Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a serious problem in Thailand. The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) stated in November 2004 that the Thai government had launched a well-funded, politically supported, and pragmatic response to the epidemic. As a result, national adult HIV prevalence has decreased to an estimated 1.5 percent of all persons aged 15 to 49 years (or about 1.8 percent of the total population). It was also reported that 58,000 adults and children had died from AIDS since the first case was reported in 1984. The government has begun to improve its support to persons with HIV/AIDS and has provided funds to HIV/AIDS support groups. Public programs have begun to alter unsafe behavior, but discrimination against those infected continues.
Welfare: Thailand has social welfare and social insurance systems. Social welfare involves welfare services aimed at the poor, persons with disabilities, children, the elderly, women, minority hill tribes, and other disadvantaged individuals. The social insurance system provides sickness, maternity, disability, death, dependent child, old age, and unemployment benefits. There also is a social security system for private-sector employees and medical security and pension systems for public-service employees, employees of national enterprises, and military personnel.