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Country Profile: Norway

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Cultural Demography

The Kingdom of Norway has an estimated total population of just under five million. The vast majority of residents are ethnic Norwegian (of Germanic extraction), although there are small groups of Sami (Lapps) and Finns who came to the area more than 10,000 years ago from Central Asia.

In keeping with this ethnic breakdown, while Norwegian is the official language, there are small Lapp- and Finnish-speaking minorities.

In recent years, Norway has become home to an increasing number of immigrants, foreign workers and asylum seekers from various parts of the world. Immigrants now total nearly 150,000 and many have obtained Norwegian citizenship.

In terms of religious affiliation, most Norwegians are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the state church of Norway. Norwegians are not required, however, to be members of the state church. Members of other Protestant denominations, Roman Catholics and Muslims are also residents and have religious freedom.

Human Development

The literacy rate in Norway is 100 percent. Education is free through the university level and is compulsory from ages seven to 16. At least 12 months of military service and training are required of every eligible male.

Norway, perhaps, enjoys the highest level of human development in the world. Apart from the universal rate of literacy and strong education system, Norway also is home to a sophisticated health and welfare system. Norway's health system includes free hospital care, physician's compensation, cash benefits during illness and pregnancy, and other medical and dental plans. Reflecting this well-developed health care system, Norway has a very low infant mortality rate at 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy is estimated at 79 years of age on average (82 years of age for females and 76 years of age for males). There is also a public pension system.

About  9.7 percent of GDP is spent on health expenditures in this country; about 6.8 percent of GDP is spent on educational expenditures.  Access to education, sanitation, water, and health is regarded to be excellent -- arguably the best in the world, in fact.

One notable measure used to determine a country's quality of life is the Human Development Index (HDI), which has been compiled annually since 1990 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The HDI is a composite of several indicators, which measure a country's achievements in three main arenas of human development: longevity, knowledge and education, as well as economic standard of living. In a recent ranking of 169 countries, the HDI placed Norway at the top of the high human development category, at 1st place.

Editor's Note:   Although the concept of human development is complicated and cannot be properly captured by values and indices, the HDI, which is calculated and updated annually, offers a wide-ranging assessment of human development in certain countries, not based solely upon traditional economic and financial indicators.

Written by Dr. Denise Youngblood Coleman, Editor in Chief,; see Bibliography for research sources.