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About 95 percent of Haitians are of African ancestry. Most of the remaining 5 percent are mulattoes of mixed French and African ancestry. The mulattoes have traditionally made up the country’s ruling elite.
The population of Haiti is 8,924,553 (2008 estimate), giving the country an overall population density of 324 persons per sq km (839 per sq mi). In arable areas, however, there are about five times more people than the average. Haiti ranks among the least urbanized countries of the Western Hemisphere; 61 percent of the people live in rural areas.
Haitian Creole and French are the official languages of Haiti. Haitian Creole, a French-based Creole with influences from West African languages, was made an official language under the 1987 constitution. It is the mother tongue for nearly the entire population of Haiti and the language of instruction in schools. French is spoken mainly as a second language by a small section of the population.
Port-au-Prince (population, 2003 estimate, 1,961,000) is the only modern city and the country’s capital and principal port. Other cities and towns include Cap-Haitien (113,555), an export center and seaport; Gonaives (63,291), a seaport in western Haiti; and Les Cayes (45,904), an important coffee export center and seaport.
By law, education is free and compulsory in Haiti for children between the ages of 6 and 11. In practice, access to education is sharply limited by school location, the cost of school clothes and supplies, and the availability of teachers. As a consequence of limited educational opportunities, only 55 percent of the adult population is literate.
The State University of Haiti, founded in 1920 in Port-au-Prince, has colleges of medicine, law and economics, business, agronomy, social sciences, humanities, and science. Two private universities were founded in the 1980s. The University of Roi Henri Christophe in Cap-Haitien has colleges of agriculture, medicine, and engineering. Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince has colleges of agriculture, economics and management, science and engineering, education, law, and health sciences. Many university-level students attend foreign universities.
Way of Life
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and for most Haitians, daily life is a struggle for survival. An estimated 65 percent of the population lives in poverty; in rural areas that number rises to about 80 percent. Malnutrition is common among the rural poor, many of whom farm small plots of infertile mountain land. Infant mortality is 62 per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere. Life expectancy at birth is only 58 years, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and the incidence of diseases ranging from intestinal parasites to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is extremely high. Only about 54 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and only 30 percent has access to sanitary sewer systems. A limited elite of about 10 percent, mostly professionals, enjoys a sophisticated, affluent lifestyle. This elite class has traditionally resisted all attempts to restructure the Haitian social system.
Haiti’s most serious social problems stem from the disproportionate distribution of wealth. About 10 percent of Haitians are part of a wealthy elite that holds political power. However, the majority of Haitians live in poverty with little education, few opportunities for employment, and limited political influence.
Although Haiti is 95 percent black, there are racial divisions between the small mulatto elite and the vast black population. Since colonial times the mulattoes have functioned as the ruling class. Having more in common with the wealthy classes of other countries, the mulattoes identify very little with poor Haitians. Underdeveloped social, economic, and political institutions—especially education—mean that there are few mechanisms within the country to promote upward social mobility. Another problem preventing social cohesion is the physical isolation of rural communities. In 2005, 61 percent of the population lived in rural areas.
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