Lesotho People - 2023



2,210,646 (2023 est.)

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noun: Mosotho (singular), Basotho (plural)

adjective: Basotho

Ethnic groups

Sotho 99.7%, other 0.3% (includes San, Kwena, Nguni (Hlubi and Phuthi), Zulu)


Sesotho (official) (southern Sotho), English (official), Phuthi, Xhosa, Zulu


Protestant 47.8% (Pentecostal 23.1%, Lesotho Evangelical 17.3%, Anglican 7.4%), Roman Catholic 39.3%, other Christian 9.1%, non-Christian 1.4%, none 2.3% (2014 est.)

Demographic profile

Lesotho faces great socioeconomic challenges. Almost half of its population lives below the poverty line as of 2017, and the country’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is the second highest in the world as of 2021. In addition, Lesotho is a small, mountainous, landlocked country with little arable land, leaving its population vulnerable to food shortages and reliant on remittances. Lesotho’s persistently high infant, child, and maternal mortality rates have been increasing during the last decade, according to the last two Demographic and Health Surveys. Despite these significant shortcomings, Lesotho has made good progress in education; it is on-track to achieve universal primary education and has one of the highest adult literacy rates in Africa.

Lesotho’s migration history is linked to its unique geography; it is surrounded by South Africa with which it shares linguistic and cultural traits. Lesotho at one time had more of its workforce employed outside its borders than any other country. Today remittances equal about 20% of its GDP. With few job options at home, a high rate of poverty, and higher wages available across the border, labor migration to South Africa replaced agriculture as the prevailing Basotho source of income decades ago. The majority of Basotho migrants were single men contracted to work as gold miners in South Africa. However, migration trends changed in the 1990s, and fewer men found mining jobs in South Africa because of declining gold prices, stricter immigration policies, and a preference for South African workers.

Although men still dominate cross-border labor migration, more women are working in South Africa, mostly as domestics, because they are widows or their husbands are unemployed. Internal rural-urban flows have also become more frequent, with more women migrating within the country to take up jobs in the garment industry or moving to care for loved ones with HIV/AIDS. Lesotho’s small population of immigrants is increasingly composed of Taiwanese and Chinese migrants who are involved in the textile industry and small retail businesses.

Age structure

0-14 years: 32.4% (male 360,327/female 355,863)

15-64 years: 62.21% (male 688,373/female 686,911)

65 years and over: 5.39% (2023 est.) (male 44,313/female 74,859)

2023 population pyramid

total dependency ratio: 62.1

youth dependency ratio: 55.3

elderly dependency ratio: 6.8

potential support ratio: 14.7 (2021 est.)

Median age

total: 24.7 years

male: 24.7 years

female: 24.7 years (2020 est.)

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Population growth rate

0.76% (2023 est.)

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Birth rate

23.01 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

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Death rate

10.9 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

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Net migration rate

-4.52 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

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Population distribution

relatively higher population density in the western half of the nation, with the capital of Maseru, and the smaller cities of Mafeteng, Teyateyaneng, and Leribe attracting the most people as shown in this population distribution map


urban population: 30.4% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 2.77% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Major urban areas - population

202,000 MASERU (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.01 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.59 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

20.9 years (2014 est.)

note: data represents median age at first birth among women 25-49

Maternal mortality ratio

566 deaths/100,000 live births (2020 est.)

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Infant mortality rate

total: 47.04 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 52.47 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 41.44 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

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Life expectancy at birth

total population: 59.87 years

male: 57.85 years

female: 61.95 years (2023 est.)

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Total fertility rate

2.88 children born/woman (2023 est.)

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Gross reproduction rate

1.42 (2023 est.)

Contraceptive prevalence rate

64.9% (2018)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 95.7% of population

rural: 77.2% of population

total: 82.6% of population

unimproved: urban: 4.3% of population

rural: 22.8% of population

total: 17.4% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

11.8% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

0.47 physicians/1,000 population (2018)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 93.6% of population

rural: 62.4% of population

total: 71.4% of population

unimproved: urban: 6.4% of population

rural: 37.6% of population

total: 28.6% of population (2020 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: intermediate (2023)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

16.6% (2016)

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Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 3.56 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 1.98 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 0.44 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 0.31 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 0.82 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

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Tobacco use

total: 24.3% (2020 est.)

male: 43.1% (2020 est.)

female: 5.4% (2020 est.)

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Children under the age of 5 years underweight

10.5% (2018)

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Currently married women (ages 15-49)

53.7% (2023 est.)

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 1%

women married by age 18: 16.4%

men married by age 18: 1.9% (2018 est.)

Education expenditures

8.7% of GDP (2021 est.)

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definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 81%

male: 72.9%

female: 88.8% (2021)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 12 years

female: 13 years (2017)

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 37.4%

male: 32.8% NA

female: 43.8% (2021 est.) NA

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NOTE: The information regarding Lesotho on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Lesotho 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Lesotho 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.

This page was last modified 22 Aug 23, Copyright © 2023 ITA all rights reserved.