Demographics of Eritrea

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The demographics of Eritrea describes the condition and overview of Eritrea's inhabitants. Demographic topics include basic education, health and population statistics, as well as identified ethnic and religious affiliations.

Ethnic groups[edit]

Ethno-Demography of Eritrea

Eritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous, with ten recognized ethnic groups. According to the CIA, the Tigrinya people make up about 50% of the population, with the Tigre people constituting around 30% of the population and the Jeberti people around 5%. These form the bulk of the country's predominantly Semitic-speaking groups. Most of the rest of the population belong to other Afro-Asiatic-speaking communities of the Cushitic branch.[1]

In addition, there are a number of Nilo-Saharan-speaking Nilotic ethnic minorities.

Afro-Asiatic communities[edit]

Semitic speakers[edit]

A Tigrinya people wedding.

The majority of the Tigrinya inhabit the highlands of Eritrea; however, migration to other parts of the country has occurred. Their language is called Tigrinya. They are the largest ethnic group in the country, constituting about 50% of the population.[1] All speakers of Tigrinya in Eritrea are officially referred to as Biher-Tigrinya (or simply, Tigrinya). A significant Muslim population called Jeberti, however, are, without their consent, incorporated under Tigrinya, although they are a separate ethnic group. The predominantly Biher-Tigrinya populated urban centers in Eritrea are the capital Asmara, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Adi Keyh, Adi Quala and Senafe, while there is a significant population of Biher-Tigrinya in other cities including Keren, and Massawa.

The Jeberti, some of whom do not consider themselves to be "Tigrinya" are Muslim and account for about 10% of the Tigrinya people there. The remaining 90% are Christians, so divided: 73% of the Eritrean Orthodox faith, 12% Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic (whose mass is held in Ge'ez as opposed to Latin), and 5% belonging to various Protestant and other Christian denominations, the majority of which belong to the (Lutheran) Evangelical Church of Eritrea.

Main article: Tigre people

The Tigre reside in the western lowlands in Eritrea and Sudan. They are a nomadic and pastoralist people, related to the Bihér-Tigrinya and to the Beja people. They are a predominantly Muslim nomadic people who inhabit the northern, western, and coastal lowlands of Eritrea, where they constitute 30% of local residents.[1] Some also inhabit areas in eastern Sudan. 95% of the Tigre people adhere to the Islamic religion Sunni Islam, but there are a small amount of Christians among them as well (often referred to as the Mensaï in Eritrea). Their language is called Tigre.

Main article: Rashaida people
A Rashaida family.

The Rashaida represent about 2% of Eritrea's population.[1] They reside in the northern coastal lowlands of Eritrea and the eastern coasts of Sudan. They are predominately Muslim and are the only ethnic group in Eritrea to have Arabic as their communal language. The Rashaida first came to Eritrea in the 19th century from the Arabian Coast.[2]

Cushitic speakers[edit]

Main article: Afar people

According to the CIA, the Afar constitute under 5% of the nation's population.[1] They live in the Debubawi Keyih Bahri Region of Eritrea, as well as the Afar Region in Ethiopia, and Djibouti. They speak the Afar language as a mother tongue, and are predominately Muslim. Afars in Eritrea number about 460,000 individuals, the smallest population out of the countries they reside in. In Djibouti, there are about 480,000 group members, and in Ethiopia, they number approximately 1,300,000.

Main article: Saho people
Saho women in traditional attire.

The Saho represent 4% of Eritrea's population.[1] They principally reside in the Debubawi Keyih Bahri Region and the Northern Red Sea Region of Eritrea. Some also live in adjacent parts of Ethiopia. Their language is called Saho. They are predominately Muslim, although a few Christians known as the Irob live in the Debub Region of Eritrea and the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Main article: Bilen people

The Bilen in Eritrea represent around 2% of the country's population.[1] They are primarily concentrated in the north-central areas, in and around the city of Keren, and south towards Asmara, the nation's capital. Many of them entered Eritrea from kush (central of Sudan) in the 8th century and settled at Merara then they went to Lalibla and to Lasta finally they returned to Auxum and battled with the natives, aftermath they returned to their main base at Merara The Bilen include adherents of both Islam and Christianity. They speak Bilen as a mother tongue. Christian adherents are mainly urban and have intermingled with the Tigrinya who live in the area. Muslim adherents are mainly rural and have interbred with the adjacent Tigre.

Main article: Beja people

The Beja in Eritrea constitute under 5% of local residents.[1] They mainly live along the north-western border with Sudan. Group members are predominately Muslim and communicate in Hedareb as a first language. The Beja also include the Beni-Amer people, who have retained their native Beja language alongside Hedareb.

Nilo-Saharan communities[edit]


A Kunama man near Barentu.
Main article: Kunama people

According to the CIA, the Kunama constitute around 2% of Eritrea's population.[1] They mainly live in the country's Gash Barka Region, as well as in adjacent parts of Ethiopia's Tigray Region. Many of them reside in the contested border village of Badme. Their language is called Kunama. Although some Kunama still practice traditional beliefs, most are converts to either Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant) or Islam.


Main article: Nara people

The Nara represent under 5% of the nation's population.[1] They principally reside along the south-western border with Sudan and Ethiopia. They are generally Muslim, with a few Christians and some practising their indigenous beliefs. Their language is called Nara.


Main article: Languages of Eritrea

Eritrea's population comprises nine ethnic groups, most of whom speak languages from the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The Semitic languages in Eritrea are Tigre, Tigrinya, the newly recognized Dahlik, and Arabic (spoken natively by the Rashaida Arabs).

Other Afro-Asiatic languages belonging to the Cushitic branch are also widely spoken in the country.[3] The latter include Afar, Beja, Blin and Saho.

In addition, languages belonging to the Nilo-Saharan language family (Kunama and Nara) are spoken as a mother tongue by the Kunama and Nara Nilotic ethnic minorities that live in the north and northwestern part of the country.[3]

Italian and English are also spoken as working languages, and are used in secondary and university education.

Tigrinya Demonstrative Adjectives
Number Gender Near Far
Singular Masculine እዚ ǝzi ... (እዚ ǝzi) እቲ ǝti ... (እቲ ǝti)
Feminine እዛ ǝza ... (እዚኣ ǝzi’a) እታ ǝta ... (እቲኣ ǝti’a)
Plural Masculine እዞመ ǝzom ... (እዚኦም ǝzi’om) እቶም ǝtom ... (እቲኦም ǝti’om)
Feminine እዘን ǝzän ... (እዚኤን ǝzi’en) እተነ ǝtän ... (እቲኤን ǝti’en)


Maekel Region Anseba Region Gash-Barka Region Debub Region Northern Red Sea Region Southern Red Sea Region
Regions of Eritrea

People in Eritrea practice various religions. According to the Pew Research Center (2010), 62.9% of the population are Christian, mostly followers of Oriental Orthodoxy, and to a lesser extent, Roman Catholicism, whilst 36.5% are Muslim.[4] In general, most local residents who adhere to Christianity live in the Maekel and Debub regions, whereas those who follow Islam predominantly inhabit the Anseba, Northern Red Sea, Southern Red Sea and Gash-Barka regions. A few adherents of traditional faiths can also be found, particularly in the lowlands.

Region Population Christians Muslims Other
Maekel Region, ዞባ ማእከል 1,053,254 94% 5% 1%
Debub Region, ዞባ ደቡብ 1,476,765 89% 11% <1%
Gash-Barka Region, ዞባ ጋሽ ባርካ 1,103,742 36% 63% 1%
Anseba Region, ዞባ ዓንሰባ 893,587 39% 61% <1%
Northern Red Sea Region,
Semienawi Keyih Bahri ዞባ ሰሜናዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ
897,454 12% 87% <1%
Southern Red Sea Region,
Debubawi Keyih Bahri ዞባ ደቡባዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ
398,073 37% 62% <1%


According to the 2010 revision of the UN's World Population Prospects, the total population was 5,254,000 in 2010, compared to 1,141,000 in 1950. The proportion of children below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.6%, 55.9% was between 15 and 65 years of age, while 2.5% was 65 years or older.[5]

Total population (x 1000) Population aged 0–14 (%) Population aged 15–64 (%) Population aged 65+ (%)
1950 1 141 45.3 51.5 3.2
1955 1 264 44.9 52.1 3.0
1960 1 424 44.8 52.5 2.8
1965 1 619 44.7 52.7 2.6
1970 1 847 45.3 52.2 2.5
1975 2 115 45.4 52.1 2.5
1980 2 469 47.1 49.1 3.8
1985 2 806 47.8 49.2 3.0
1990 3 158 46.3 51.1 2.6
1995 3 213 47.0 50.5 2.5
2000 3 668 44.9 52.7 2.4
2005 4 486 42.0 55.7 2.4
2010 5 254 41.6 55.9 2.5

UN population projections[edit]

Numbers are in thousands. UN medium variant projections [5]

  • 2015 6,077
  • 2020 6,848
  • 2025 7,613
  • 2030 8,394
  • 2035 9,207
  • 2040 10,032
  • 2045 10,829
  • 2050 11,567

Vital statistics[edit]

Registration of vital events in Eritrea is incomplete. The Population Department of the United Nations prepared the following estimates:[5]

Period Live births per year Deaths per year Natural change per year CBR* CDR* NC* TFR* IMR*
1950-1955 58 000 34 000 24 000 48.4 28.0 20.4 6.97 176
1955-1960 66 000 35 000 31 000 49.2 25.7 23.4 6.97 163
1960-1965 74 000 36 000 38 000 48.5 23.6 24.9 6.82 151
1965-1970 83 000 38 000 45 000 47.6 21.7 25.9 6.70 139
1970-1975 91 000 39 000 52 000 46.1 19.7 26.3 6.52 133
1975-1980 103 000 43 000 60 000 45.1 18.9 26.2 6.50 127
1980-1985 112 000 54 000 58 000 42.4 20.5 21.9 6.50 116
1985-1990 123 000 52 000 71 000 41.1 17.3 23.9 6.31 104
1990-1995 127 000 45 000 83 000 40.0 14.1 25.9 6.08 90
1995-2000 131 000 38 000 93 000 38.1 11.1 27.0 5.66 73
2000-2005 157 000 39 000 118 000 38.4 9.5 28.9 5.19 62
2005-2010 183 000 40 000 143 000 37.5 8.3 29.3 4.68 54
* CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births; TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman)

Fertility and Births[edit]

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and Crude Birth Rate (CBR):[6]

Year CBR (Total) TFR (Total) CBR (Urban) TFR (Urban) CBR (Rural) TFR (Rural)
1995 37,5 6,10 29,3 4,23 40,3 6,99
2002 32 4,8 28 3,5 35 5,7

Demographic statistics[edit]

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated. Population: 5,060,620 Age structure:
0–14 years: 42.9% (male 1,085,116/female 1,072,262)
15–64 years: 53.5% (male 1,332,349/female 1,355,494)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 88,068/female 95,186) (2008 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.445% (2011 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15–64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.93 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2008 est.)

Fertility rate: According to 2002 official survey, fertility rate was 4.8 with 3.5 in urban and 5.7 in rural.[7]

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 68.8 years
male: 66.7 years
female: 70.9 years (2010 est.)

noun: Eritrean(s)
adjective: Eritrean

Ethnic groups: There are 9 ethnic groups: Afar, Bilen, Hedareb (Beja), Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Saho, Tigre and Tigrinya.

Planning Office, Ministry of Education, Asmara, Eritrea (1996):[8] Tigrinya 50%, Tigre 31.0%, Saho 5.0%, Afar 5.0%, Hedareb (Beja) 2.5%, Rashaida 2.4%, Bilen 2.0%, Kunama 2.0%, and Nara 1.5%.

Religions: Eritrean Orthodox, Sunni Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant (see Religion in Eritrea)

Languages: Afar, Arabic (spoken by the Rashaida), Beja (spoken by the Hedareb), Blin, Kunama, Nara, Saho, Tigre, Tigrinya, as a second language. English, Italian and Arabic are the foremost second languages.

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 70%
male: 68%
female: 72% (2011 est.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j CIA - Eritrea - Ethnic groups
  2. ^ Alders, Anne. "the Rashaida". Retrieved 2006-06-07. 
  3. ^ a b Minahan, James (1998). Miniature empires: a historical dictionary of the newly independent states. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 76. ISBN 0-313-30610-9. "The majority of the Eritreans speak Semitic or Cushitic languages of the Afro-Asiatic language group. The Kunama, Baria, and other smaller groups in the north and northwest speak Nilotic languages." 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Tekle M. Woldemikael, "Language, Education, and Public Policy in Eritrea" in African Studies Review, vol. 46, p. 120, 2003.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2008 edition".

External links[edit]