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Demographics of Latvia

Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of "Latviji," which may have originated from a "Latve" river that presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis," meaning "forest-clearers," which is how medieval German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers changed this name to "Lette" and called their initially small colony "Livland." The Latin form, "Livonia," gradually referred to the whole of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-European family.

Latvians look like and consider themselves Nordics, evidenced through the strong cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sizable minority are Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Historically, Latvia always has had a fairly large Russian, Jewish, German and Polish minority, but postwar emigration, deportations and Soviet Russification policies from 1939-89 dropped the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and avoid ethnic Latvians becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia's strict language law and draft citizenship law have caused many non-citizen resident Russians concern over their ability to assimilate, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. The Soviets imposed the official use of Russian, so most Latvians speak Russian as a second or first language while the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.

Population: 2,404,926 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 17% (male 212,483; female 203,417)
15-64 years: 68% (male 777,289; female 849,967)
65 years and over: 15% (male 116,575; female 245,195) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: -0.84% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 7.8 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 14.88 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: -1.32 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.91 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.48 male(s)/female
total population: 0.85 male(s)/female (2000 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 15.71 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 68.41 years
male: 62.48 years
female: 74.62 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 1.13 children born/woman (2000 est.)

noun: Latvian(s) (archaic: Lett(s))
adjective: Latvian (archaic: Lettish)

Ethnic groups: Latvian 56.5%, Russian 30.4%, Byelorussian 4.3%, Ukrainian 2.8%, Polish 2.6%, other 3.4%

Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox

Languages: Latvian (official), Lithuanian, Russian, other

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 100%
male: 100%
female: 99% (1989 est.)

See also : Latvia