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Federated States of Micronesia, The People of the FSM

Chuuk state, Micronesians, Western foods, United States mainland, Pohnpei

The FSM’s 2002 estimated population was 135,869, indicating a population density of 194 persons per sq km (501 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, with Chuuk state having one-half the population and Pohnpei, one-third. Some 28 percent of the population lives in the urban areas on the four main islands. The birth rate is high, but emigration partly offsets the population growth rate. Since the mid-1980s, Micronesians have migrated in sizable numbers to Guam, Hawaii, and the United States mainland.

The native Micronesians are divided among roughly ten language groups with varying cultural traditions. English is the official language of government and business, and most people have some command of it, although the range of ability is great. Many people also know two or more local languages.

The literacy rate is estimated at 89 percent, but educational achievement is very mixed. Elementary and secondary education is free and is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 14. Institutions of higher education include the Community College of Micronesia, established in 1987 on Pohnpei. Several hundred students from the FSM also pursue higher education in Guam and the United States.

With few exceptions, the people are Christians. Until recently, they were about evenly divided between mainstream Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism. However, a number of Evangelical churches and other competing faiths have gained a following in the FSM, and religious differences have added an element of tension to island life.

Extended family life remains strong in the outer islands, but it is being eroded in the urban centers. The movement of people from rural to urban areas has been accompanied by an increased reliance on the money economy. Many basic traditional skills such as canoe making, fishing, and agriculture are being lost. Clothing and housing are increasingly more Western in style. Dependence on imported Western foods is also increasing. Even a basic necessity such as fish (canned) is imported. Many of the imported foods have a higher fat, sugar, and salt content than do the traditional foods they have replaced. As a result, there has been an increase in obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. Overcrowding in urban areas and the declining influence of the extended family have contributed to an increase in a number of social problems, including spouse and child abuse, alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency, and youth suicides.

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