As implied in the country’s name, the vast majority, some 90%, of Saudi citizens come from the various regional ethnic Arab groups native to the Arabian Peninsula. This includes Hejazis, Najdis, Hassawis, Southern Arabs and others. About one-third of Saudi residents are expats hailing from Southeast Asia, Africa and other Arab countries.
Until the 1960s, much of the population was nomadic and semi-nomadic. Today, however, more than 95% of the population is settled, with some 83% residing in urban areas. Male life expectancy is 73.2 years while females have a life expectancy of 77.4 years. It is estimated that there 1.19 male Saudis for each female Saudi.
The Kingdom’s population is quite young. In 2016, the World Bank estimated the population of Saudi Arabia to be 32.28 million, more than half of which is under the age of 25. The population has quadrupled since 1970 and is currently growing at a rate of around 2.5% annually.
With such a young population, education is one of the Kingdom’s top priorities. Significant educational reform has taken place over the past 50 years, and the Kingdom now ranks as the world’s top spender on education. The adult literacy rate stands at 97%.
Higher education has also been a primary focus. The King Abdullah Scholarship Program has allowed hundreds of thousands of Saudi university graduates to obtain Masters Degrees and PhDs at overseas universities after earning bachelor degrees at Saudi universities. King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), a world-class research institute, also opened its doors to both Saudi and foreign post-graduates in 2009.
Saudi women have also experienced dramatic progress in recent years and female university graduates now outnumber male graduates.