Mauritania vs. Senegal


4,005,475 (July 2020 est.)
15,736,368 (July 2020 est.)
Age structure
0-14 years: 37.56% (male 755,788/female 748,671)
15-24 years: 19.71% (male 387,140/female 402,462)
25-54 years: 33.91% (male 630,693/female 727,518)
55-64 years: 4.9% (male 88,888/female 107,201)
65 years and over: 3.92% (male 66,407/female 90,707) (2020 est.)
0-14 years: 40.38% (male 3,194,454/female 3,160,111)
15-24 years: 20.35% (male 1,596,896/female 1,606,084)
25-54 years: 31.95% (male 2,327,424/female 2,700,698)
55-64 years: 4.21% (male 283,480/female 378,932)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 212,332/female 275,957) (2020 est.)
Median age
total: 21 years
male: 20.1 years
female: 22 years (2020 est.)
total: 19.4 years
male: 18.5 years
female: 20.3 years (2020 est.)
Population growth rate
2.09% (2020 est.)
2.31% (2020 est.)
Birth rate
29 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
31.8 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
Death rate
7.5 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
7.6 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
Net migration rate
-0.8 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2020 est.)
-1.3 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2020 est.)
Sex ratio
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 0.96 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.87 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.83 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 92.9 male(s)/female (2020 est.)
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.86 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.75 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.77 male(s)/female
total population: 93.8 male(s)/female (2020 est.)
Infant mortality rate
total: 47.9 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 52.5 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 43.1 deaths/1,000 live births (2020 est.)
total: 45.7 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 51.3 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 40 deaths/1,000 live births (2020 est.)
Life expectancy at birth
total population: 64.5 years
male: 62.1 years
female: 67 years (2020 est.)
total population: 63.2 years
male: 61.1 years
female: 65.4 years (2020 est.)
Total fertility rate
3.65 children born/woman (2020 est.)
4.04 children born/woman (2020 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate
0.2% (2019 est.)
0.4% (2019 est.)
noun: Mauritanian(s)
adjective: Mauritanian
noun: Senegalese (singular and plural)
adjective: Senegalese
Ethnic groups
black Moors (Haratines - Arab-speaking slaves, former slaves, and their descendants of African origin, enslaved by white Moors) 40%, white Moors (of Arab-Berber descent, known as Beydane) 30%, Sub-Saharan Mauritanians (non-Arabic speaking, largely resident in or originating from the Senegal River Valley, including Halpulaar, Fulani, Soninke, Wolof, and Bambara ethnic groups) 30%
Wolof 37.1%, Pular 26.2%, Serer 17%, Mandinka 5.6%, Jola 4.5%, Soninke 1.4%, other 8.3% (includes Europeans and persons of Lebanese descent) (2017 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS
5,700 (2019 est.)
41,000 (2019 est.)
Muslim (official) 100%
Muslim 95.9% (most adhere to one of the four main Sufi brotherhoods), Christian 4.1% (mostly Roman Catholic) (2016 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths
<500 (2019 est.)
1,200 (2019 est.)
Arabic (official and national), Pular, Soninke, Wolof (all national languages), French

note: the spoken Arabic in Mauritania differs considerably from the modern standard Arabic used for official written purposes or in the media; the Mauritanian dialect, which incorporates many Berber words, is referred to as Hassaniya

French (official), Wolof, Pular, Jola, Mandinka, Serer, Soninke
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 53.5%
male: 63.7%
female: 43.4% (2017)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 51.9%
male: 64.8%
female: 39.8% (2017)
Major infectious diseases
degree of risk: very high (2020)
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria and dengue fever
animal contact diseases: rabies
respiratory diseases: meningococcal meningitis
degree of risk: very high (2020)
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria and dengue fever
water contact diseases: schistosomiasis
animal contact diseases: rabies
respiratory diseases: meningococcal meningitis
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)
total: 9 years
male: 9 years
female: 10 years (2019)
total: 9 years
male: 8 years
female: 9 years (2019)
Education expenditures
2.6% of GDP (2016)
4.8% of GDP (2017)
urban population: 55.3% of total population (2020)
rate of urbanization: 4.28% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)
urban population: 48.1% of total population (2020)
rate of urbanization: 3.73% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)
Drinking water source
improved: urban: 98.7% of population
rural: 68.4% of population
total: 84.4% of population
unimproved: urban: 1.3% of population
rural: 31.6% of population
total: 15.6% of population (2017 est.)
improved: urban: 92.3% of population
rural: 74.5% of population
total: 83.3% of population
unimproved: urban: 6.7% of population
rural: 25.5% of population
total: 16.7% of population (2017 est.)
Sanitation facility access
improved: urban: 83.5% of population
rural: 25.2% of population
total: 56% of population
unimproved: urban: 16.5% of population
rural: 74.8% of population
total: 44% of population (2017 est.)
improved: urban: 91.2% of population
rural: 48.5% of population
total: 68.4% of population
unimproved: urban: 8.8% of population
rural: 51.5% of population
total: 31.6% of population (2017 est.)
Major cities - population
1.315 million NOUAKCHOTT (capital) (2020)
3.140 million DAKAR (capital) (2020)
Maternal mortality rate
766 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)
315 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)
Children under the age of 5 years underweight
19.2% (2018)
13.3% (2019)
Health expenditures
4.4% (2017)
4.1% (2017)
Physicians density
0.18 physicians/1,000 population (2017)
0.07 physicians/1,000 population (2017)
Obesity - adult prevalence rate
12.7% (2016)
8.8% (2016)
Demographic profile

With a sustained total fertility rate of about 4 children per woman and almost 60% of the population under the age of 25, Mauritania's population is likely to continue growing for the foreseeable future. Mauritania's large youth cohort is vital to its development prospects, but available schooling does not adequately prepare students for the workplace. Girls continue to be underrepresented in the classroom, educational quality remains poor, and the dropout rate is high. The literacy rate is only about 50%, even though access to primary education has improved since the mid-2000s. Women's restricted access to education and discriminatory laws maintain gender inequality - worsened by early and forced marriages and female genital cutting.

The denial of education to black Moors also helps to perpetuate slavery. Although Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 (the last country in the world to do so) and made it a criminal offense in 2007, the millenniums-old practice persists largely because anti-slavery laws are rarely enforced and the custom is so ingrained.  According to a 2018 nongovernmental organization's report, a little more than 2% of Mauritania's population is enslaved, which includes individuals sujbected to forced labor and forced marriage, although many thousands of individuals who are legally free contend with discrimination, poor education, and a lack of identity papers and, therefore, live in de facto slavery.  The UN and international press outlets have claimed that up to 20% of Mauritania's population is enslaved, which would be the highest rate worldwide.

Drought, poverty, and unemployment have driven outmigration from Mauritania since the 1970s. Early flows were directed toward other West African countries, including Senegal, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, and Gambia. The 1989 Mauritania-Senegal conflict forced thousands of black Mauritanians to take refuge in Senegal and pushed labor migrants toward the Gulf, Libya, and Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mauritania has accepted migrants from neighboring countries to fill labor shortages since its independence in 1960 and more recently has received refugees escaping civil wars, including tens of thousands of Tuaregs who fled Mali in 2012.

Mauritania was an important transit point for Sub-Saharan migrants moving illegally to North Africa and Europe. In the mid-2000s, as border patrols increased in the Strait of Gibraltar, security increased around Spain's North African enclaves (Ceuta and Melilla), and Moroccan border controls intensified, illegal migration flows shifted from the Western Mediterranean to Spain's Canary Islands. In 2006, departure points moved southward along the West African coast from Morocco and Western Sahara to Mauritania's two key ports (Nouadhibou and the capital Nouakchott), and illegal migration to the Canaries peaked at almost 32,000. The numbers fell dramatically in the following years because of joint patrolling off the West African coast by Frontex (the EU's border protection agency), Spain, Mauritania, and Senegal; the expansion of Spain's border surveillance system; and the 2008 European economic downturn.

Senegal has a large and growing youth population but has not been successful in developing its potential human capital. Senegal’s high total fertility rate of almost 4.5 children per woman continues to bolster the country’s large youth cohort – more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25. Fertility remains high because of the continued desire for large families, the low use of family planning, and early childbearing. Because of the country’s high illiteracy rate (more than 40%), high unemployment (even among university graduates), and widespread poverty, Senegalese youths face dim prospects; women are especially disadvantaged.

Senegal historically was a destination country for economic migrants, but in recent years West African migrants more often use Senegal as a transit point to North Africa – and sometimes illegally onward to Europe. The country also has been host to several thousand black Mauritanian refugees since they were expelled from their homeland during its 1989 border conflict with Senegal. The country’s economic crisis in the 1970s stimulated emigration; departures accelerated in the 1990s. Destinations shifted from neighboring countries, which were experiencing economic decline, civil wars, and increasing xenophobia, to Libya and Mauritania because of their booming oil industries and to developed countries (most notably former colonial ruler France, as well as Italy and Spain). The latter became attractive in the 1990s because of job opportunities and their periodic regularization programs (legalizing the status of illegal migrants).

Additionally, about 16,000 Senegalese refugees still remain in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau as a result of more than 30 years of fighting between government forces and rebel separatists in southern Senegal’s Casamance region.

Contraceptive prevalence rate
17.8% (2015)
27.8% (2017)
Dependency ratios
total dependency ratio: 75
youth dependency ratio: 69.5
elderly dependency ratio: 5.6
potential support ratio: 18 (2020 est.)
total dependency ratio: 84.2
youth dependency ratio: 78.4
elderly dependency ratio: 5.7
potential support ratio: 17.5 (2020 est.)

Source: CIA Factbook