Language and population of Yemen

  • 1947

The population of Yemen was about 28 million according to July 2005 estimates, with 46% of the population being under 15 years old and 2.7% above 65 years. In 1950, it was 4.3 million. By 2050, the population is estimated to increase to about 60 million.

Yemen has one of the world's highest birth rates; the average Yemeni woman bears five children. Although this is similar to the rate in Somalia to the south, it is roughly twice as high as that of Saudi Arabia and nearly three times as high as those in the more modernized Persian Gulf states. Yemen's population is increasing by 700,000 every year.

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Yemenis are mainly of Arab origin. Arabic is the official language, although English is increasingly understood by citizens in major cities. In the Mahra area (the extreme east) and the island Soqotra, several ancient south-Arabic Semitic languages are spoken. When the former states of north and south Yemen were established, most resident minority groups departed.

Yemen is still a largely tribal society. In the mountains of northern Yemen live some 400 Zaydi tribes. The African-descended group known as Al-Akhdam form a kind of hereditary caste in Yemen. Yemen officially abolished slavery in 1962. Yemenite Jews once formed a sizable Jewish minority in Yemen with a distinct culture. They also occupied key industries including silversmiths, and their influence on Yemeni culture is still discussed within the souks. However, most of them emigrated to Israel in the mid 20th century, following the Jewish exodus from Arab lands and Operation Magic Carpet. In the early 20th century, they had numbered about 50,000; they currently number only a few hundred individuals and reside largely in Sana'a. The original Jews' village is now left abandoned and is popularly known as "Bait-baws."

Arab traders have long operated in Southeast Asia, trading in spices, timber, and textiles. Most of the prominent Indonesians, Malaysians, and Singaporeans of Arab descent are Hadhrami people with origins in southern Yemen in the Hadramawt coastal region. As many as 4 million Indonesians are of Hadrami and today there are almost 10,000 Hadramis in Singapore. The Hadramis emigrated not only to Southeast Asia but also to East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Maqil were a collection of Arab Bedouin tribes of Yemeni origin who migrated westwards via Egypt. Several groups of Yemeni Arabs turned south to Mauritania, and by the end of the 17th century century, they dominated the entire country. They can also be found throughout Morocco and in Algeria as well as in other North African Countries.

According to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Yemen hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 124,600 in 2007. Refugees and asylum seekers living in Yemen were predominantly from Somalia (110,600), Iraq (11,000), and Ethiopia (2,000). There are also about 70,000 Iraqis presently living in Yemen. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in 2008 more than 50,000 Somalis reached Yemen. Yemen's civil war has forced at least 175,000 Yemenis to flee their homes.

The Yemeni diaspora is largely concentrated in the United Kingdom, where between 70,000 and 80,000 Yemenis reside; just over 15,000 to 20,000 Yemenis reside in the United States, and 2,000 live in France. Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 to punish Yemen for its opposition to the Gulf War against Iraq.