U.S. Department of State Background Note
Although Haiti averages about 302 people per square kilometer, its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly of mixed Caucasian-African ancestry. A few are of European or Levantine heritage. Sixty percent of the population lives in rural areas.
French is one of two official languages, but it is spoken by only about 10% of the people. All Haitians speak Creole, the country"s other official language. English is increasingly used as a second language among the young and in the business sector.
The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Increasing numbers of Haitians have converted to Protestantism through the work of missionaries active throughout the country. Much of the population also practices voudou (voodoo), recognized by the government as a religion in April 2003. Haitians tend to see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs coexisting with Christian faith.
Although public education is free, the cost is still quite high for Haitian families who must pay for uniforms, textbooks, supplies, and other inputs. Due to weak state provision of education services, private and parochial schools account for approximately 90% of primary schools, and only 65% of primary school-aged children are actually enrolled. At the secondary level, the figure drops to around 20%. Less than 35% of those who enter will complete primary school. Though Haitians place a high value on education, few can afford to send their children to secondary school and primary school enrollment is dropping due to economic factors. Remittances sent by Haitians living abroad are important in paying educational costs.
Large-scale emigration, principally to the U.S.--but also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and other Caribbean neighbors, and France--has created what Haitians refer to as the Tenth Department or the Diaspora. About one of every eight Haitians lives