156,595,000 (2013); density among world’s highest; 33 per cent of people live in urban areas and 14 per cent in urban agglomerations of more than one million people; growth 1.6 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 20 per 1,000 people (47 in 1970), controlled by vigorous family planning schemes; life expectancy 71 years (44 in 1970).
Bangla (Bengali) is the official language. English is widely spoken, especially in government and commerce.
Muslims 90 per cent, Hindus 9.5 per cent, a few Buddhists and Christians (2011 census); Islam is the state religion.
Public spending on health was one per cent of GDP in 2012. Public-sector medical facilities remain scarce, though there are clinics run by a major non-governmental organisation, BRAC. To provide safe drinking water, between the 1970s and the mid-1990s some five million wells were drilled, and in 2012 the UN estimated that 85 per cent of the population was using an improved drinking water source and 57 per cent had access to adequate sanitation facilities. However, from 1996 naturally occurring arsenic was detected in the ground water (supplying more than one million tube wells), putting nearly 50 per cent of the population at risk. By the 2000s there was an epidemic of health problems caused by arsenic poisoning. Bangladesh has maintained a high level of immunisation coverage against diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles. There are 78 medical colleges in Bangladesh (2014). Infant mortality was 33 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (149 in 1960).
Public spending on education was two per cent of GDP in 2008. There are five years of compulsory primary education and eight years of free education, starting at the age of six. Almost all primary schools are government-managed. Secondary schools comprise a first cycle of three years and a second cycle of four years. Some 66 per cent of pupils complete primary school (2009). The school year starts in January. A parallel system of education – madrassa education – offers Islamic instruction from primary level up to postgraduate level.
The main public universities are the University of Dhaka (established in 1921); University of Rajshahi (1954); Bangladesh Agricultural University (1961, located in Mymensingh); University of Chittagong (1966); and University of Jahangirnagar (1970, in Savar, Dhaka). There are also several private universities in Dhaka, including North South University and Independent University. The Bangladesh Open University provides distance learning for a wide range of students at secondary and tertiary levels. The female–male ratio for gross enrolment in tertiary education is 0.70:1 (2011). Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 77 per cent (2010).
Bangladesh has a lively and thriving press, with very many newspapers and weeklies in circulation. Leading English-language newspapers are The Daily Star, Daily Sun, The Independent, New Age, The New Nation, and Holiday (weekly). Dailies in Bengali include Dainik Ittefaq, Daily Prothom Alo and Dainik Jugantor.
Television is Bangladesh’s most popular medium, especially in the cities. The country’s main terrestrial TV channel, Bangladesh Television, is a public service. Privately-owned TV channels available via cable and satellite include: ATN Bangla, Channel I, NTV, RTV and Ekushey TV. Satellite and cable television are popular in urban areas. Bangladesh Betar is the national public radio service.
Some 32 per cent of households have TV sets (2010). There are 23 personal computers per 1,000 people (2006).
Country code 880; internet domain ‘.bd’. Mobile phone coverage is good in urban areas but patchy elsewhere. Internet connections exist in main towns.
For every 1,000 people there are seven landlines, 671 mobile phone subscriptions and 65 internet users (2013).
Shaheed Day (International Mother Language Day, 21 February), Independence Day (26 March), Labour Day (1 May), Bank Holiday (early July), National Mourning Day (15 August), National Revolution Day (7 November), Victory Day (16 December) and New Year’s Eve. The weekend comprises Friday/Saturday.
Religious and other festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Prophet’s Birthday, Bangla Naba Barsha (Bengali New Year, around 14 April), Buddha Purnima (April/May), Shab-e-Bharat (Ascension of the Prophet), Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan, three days), Durga Puja (Dashami, October), Shab-e-Qadr (Evening of Destiny), Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice, three days) and Islamic New Year.