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Mauritania vs. Western Sahara

Demographics

MauritaniaWestern Sahara
Population
4,005,475 (July 2020 est.)
652,271 (July 2020 est.)

note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries

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: 36.29% (male 119,719/female 116,997)
15-24 years: 19.44% (male 63,852/female 62,954)
25-54 years: 34.9% (male 112,301/female 115,313)
55-64 years: 5.27% (male 16,095/female 18,292)
65 years and over: 4.1% (male 11,802/female 14,946) (2020 est.)
Median age
total: 21 years
male: 20.1 years
female: 22 years (2020 est.)
total: 21.8 years
male: 21.4 years
female: 22.3 years (2020 est.)
Population growth rate
2.09% (2020 est.)
2.54% (2020 est.)
Birth rate
29 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
28 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
Death rate
7.5 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
7.7 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
Net migration rate
-0.8 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2020 est.)
4.9 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: 1.04 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.88 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.79 male(s)/female
total population: 98.6 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: 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.)
Life expectancy at birth
total population: 64.5 years
male: 62.1 years
female: 67 years (2020 est.)
total population: 64.5 years
male: 62.1 years
female: 67 years (2020 est.)
Total fertility rate
3.65 children born/woman (2020 est.)
3.65 children born/woman (2020 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate
0.2% (2019 est.)
NA
Nationality
noun: Mauritanian(s)
adjective: Mauritanian
noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
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%
Arab, Berber
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS
5,700 (2019 est.)
NA
Religions
Muslim (official) 100%
Muslim
HIV/AIDS - deaths
<500 (2019 est.)
NA
Languages
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

Standard Arabic, Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Berber, Spanish, French
Education expenditures
2.6% of GDP (2016)
NA
Urbanization
urban population: 55.3% of total population (2020)
rate of urbanization: 4.28% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)
urban population: 86.8% of total population (2020)
rate of urbanization: 2.61% annual rate of change (2015-20 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.)
Major cities - population
1.315 million NOUAKCHOTT (capital) (2020)
232,000 Laayoune (2018)
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.

Western Sahara is a non-self governing territory; approximately 75% is under Moroccan control. It was inhabited almost entirely by Sahrawi pastoral nomads until the mid-20th century. Their traditional vast migratory ranges, based on following unpredictable rainfall, did not coincide with colonial and later international borders. Since the 1930s, most Sahrawis have been compelled to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and to live in urban settings as a result of fighting, the presence of minefields, job opportunities in the phosphate industry, prolonged drought, the closure of Western Sahara’s border with Mauritania from 1979-2002, and the construction of the defensive berm separating Moroccan- and Polisario-controlled (Sahrawi liberalization movement) areas. Morocco supported rapid urbanization to facilitate surveillance and security.

Today more than 80% of Western Sahara’s population lives in urban areas; more than 40% live in the administrative center Laayoune. Moroccan immigration has altered the composition and dramatically increased the size of Western Sahara’s population. Morocco maintains a large military presence in Western Sahara and has encouraged its citizens to settle there, offering bonuses, pay raises, and food subsidies to civil servants and a tax exemption, in order to integrate Western Sahara into the Moroccan Kingdom and, Sahrawis contend, to marginalize the native population.

Western Saharan Sahrawis have been migrating to Europe, principally to former colonial ruler Spain, since the 1950s. Many who moved to refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, also have migrated to Spain and Italy, usually alternating between living in cities abroad with periods back at the camps. The Polisario claims that the population of the Tindouf camps is about 155,000, but this figure may include thousands of Arabs and Tuaregs from neighboring countries. Because international organizations have been unable to conduct an independent census in Tindouf, the UNHCR bases its aid on a figure of 90,000 refugees. Western Saharan coastal towns emerged as key migration transit points (for reaching Spain’s Canary Islands) in the mid-1990s, when Spain’s and Italy’s tightening of visa restrictions and EU pressure on Morocco and other North African countries to control illegal migration pushed Sub-Saharan African migrants to shift their routes to the south.

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: 44.1
youth dependency ratio: 39.2
elderly dependency ratio: 4.9
potential support ratio: 20.4 (2020 est.)

Source: CIA Factbook