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The Surprising Results of the Saudi Arabian 2004 Demographic Census

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2008

Department of Middle Eastern History, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel; e-mail:


At first glance, in contrast to political documents, official demographic data, particularly total population figures, “look innocent.” The common tendency is to accept them “as is” because governments tend not to manipulate the declared number of their citizens. In most cases this assumption is true. Is it also true for Saudi Arabia? In the 1970s and 1990s, Saudi authorities published the results of two demographic censuses that numbered the Saudi citizenry at 6,218,361 in September 1974 and 12,310,053 in September 1992. However, many experts found these figures to be highly inflated, as shown in the table.

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1 According to the first census of Saudi Arabia, carried out from 1962 to 1963, the kingdom's population numbered 3.3 million. However, Saudi authorities consider this census incomplete, mainly due to the large-scale undercount of the nomadic population. See United Nations Economic Commission for Western Asia, The Population Situation in the ECWA RegionSaudi Arabia (Beirut, 1979), 2; Abdulla H. M. al-Khalifeh, “Population Spatial Distribution Policies in Saudi Arabia,” in Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Population Spatial Distribution (Amman, August 1993), 138.

2 According to the latest official Saudi data, by 2004 the Saudi citizenry had increased by 2.6 percent. See Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, Forty-Second Annual Report-1427H-2006G (Riyadh, 2007), 275, Table 18.2.

3 On Saudi long-term employment strategy, see Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Economy and Planning, The Eighth Development Plan, 1425/1426–1429/1430 A.H. [2005–2009] (Riyadh, 2005), 185–88.

4 Quoted from Peter W. Wilson and Douglas F. Graham, Saudi Arabia: The Coming Storm (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), 12.

5 Birks, Sinclair, & Associates Ltd., GCC Market Report—1992 (Durham: Mountjoy Research Centre, May 1992), 99, Table 1.1.

6 International Labour Office, International Migration and Development in the Arab Region, J. S. Birks and C. A. Sinclair (Geneva: ILO, 1980), 129, Table 3.

7 Onn Winckler, Arab Political Demography (Brighton/Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2005), 43, Table 2.4.