Laos Social Structure

Laos Minibuses

Proportion of literate adults: 80% (women 73%, men 87%)

Major religions: Buddhism (approx. 67%), animism (approx. 30%)

Urban population: 40.7% (2017)

Life expectancy (female / male): 67/63 years (estimated, 2018)

Gender Inequality Index (GII): Rank 110 of 162 (2018)

Number of births: 2.7 per woman (estimated 2018)

Child mortality up to 1 year: 48/1000 live births (estimated, 2018)

According to ehistorylib, the population of Laos can be divided into 49 ethnic groups based on anthropo-geographical, ethno-linguistic and socio-cultural characteristics.


Attempts are made again and again to categorize the countless ethnic groups. Dividing the population into three groups depending on their habitat is still widespread, although it has already been officially abolished. No wonder, on the 1000 Kip note it goes through many hands every day.

  • the Lao Loum (habitat lowlands) make up around 68 percent of the population and dominate the economy, politics and administration.
  • The Lao Theung (habitat mountain slopes and hills) make up about 22 percent and the
  • Lao Sung (habitat higher than 1000 meters) as numerically smallest group about 9 percent.
  • The Chinese and Vietnamese make up about 1-2 percent.


Lao (Pasa Lao) forms the overarching communication language of the country in the multiethnic Laos; due to the French colonial history, especially older Laotians still speak French, which is being displaced more and more by the massive influence of English. The number of over 80 languages existing in the country (some of which are also threatened with extinction) reflects the ethnic heterogeneity and complexity of the national composition.

The Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University offers on its page Lao Language Culture and Learning Resources exercises for learning the Lao language, lots of photos, short stories, audio samples and other interesting and comprehensive information on Lao history and culture.

Gender ratio

Laos is a society of men, even if the Laotian constitution stipulates the equal status of women. Men are only responsible for the “heavy” work. Everything else is women’s business and places multiple burdens on the Laotian woman. The women are also responsible for the finances; they have to ensure that there is enough money in the house. Raising children is a woman’s business, and even if the birth rate has halved in recent years from an average of six children per woman, women are often overwhelmed with coping with everyday life and the children are left to their own devices.

Still, the socialist influence has strengthened women by decree. Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, women in Laos are more emancipated. The Lao Women’s Union forms a network that spans all of Laos and has a lot of initiative.

Socio-cultural differentiation

Socio-cultural differentiation in Laotian society has been observed over the past ten years. The living conditions of urban and rural populations are increasingly different from one another. By building a market economy and expanding the infrastructure, especially in the cities, the connection to international markets was improved and better-paid job opportunities were created. The result was a numerically small but more affluent middle class that can afford the goods and consumer goods on offer. The social inequality is increasing – especially in the capital city – visible to.

Social inequality

Despite the abundance of resources and constant economic growth, social inequality has risen and, especially in rural areas, many people still live in poverty. Residents of rural areas can hardly find work outside the agricultural sector and have few opportunities to gain further qualifications. The most disadvantaged group of women and girls in rural areas urgently needs improved opportunities to complete their schooling and gain professional qualifications in order to shape their future. The dropout rates of girls in rural areas are still significantly higher than those of girls in urban areas and those of boys.

Social problems

Land grab

Land grabbing is one of the most serious social problems in Laos. There is a lack of uniform international frameworks that consistently implement existing laws and thereby prevent further land grabbing. In May 2013, the case of Vietnamese companies attracted great international media attention: the Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai (Hagl) brutally expelled people from their land in Laos and Cambodia. The German bank was about their financing involved. In December 2013, Deutsche Bank sold its shares in the Vietnamese company Hagl.

Until 2015, the Lao government officially did not issue any new mining licenses or land concessions for rubber. Existing projects were examined. At the moment, new projects are to be examined more carefully than before. The focus should also be on improving public participation.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is becoming an increasingly important issue in Laos. The number of people displaced abroad rose sharply, especially in 2010.

Unscrupulous human traffickers lure children, mainly girls, to neighboring countries.

Over hundreds of young girls have been lured to China in recent years. The girls go abroad with the promise of finding work or are married to Chinese. Girls who belong to the Khmu ethnic group from the northern provinces of Louang Namtha, Oudomxay, Bokeo, and Phongsaly are particularly affected.

A lack of resources makes it difficult to find the girls and bring them back to their families. There are no anti-trafficking offices in China. In Laos these are now in every province, but the offices are often underfunded and in some cases do not have the necessary powers or the corresponding knowledge to make a difference.

Laos Minibuses