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Sri Lanka at a Glance

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64,740 sq km

Currency (code):

Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)

Exchange rates:

Sri Lankan rupees per US dollar - 110.78 (2007), 103.99 (2006), 100.498 (2005), 101.194 (2004), 96.521 (2003)



Age structure:

  • 0-14 years: 24.1% (male 2,596,463/female 2,495,136)
  • 15-64 years: 68% (male 7,019,446/female 7,340,809)
  • 65 years and over: 7.9% (male 783,823/female 893,096) (2008 est.)

Population growth rate:

0.943% (2008 est.)


Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)


Sri Lanka has a tropical climate; temperatures average 80°F (27°C) year-round. Highland areas are cooler but also receive more rain than lowland regions. Seasonal monsoons affect the island


Both Sinhala and Tamil are designated as national languages in Sri Lanka, but Sinhala is the primary official language. About 10 percent of the population speaks English, the primary language of business.

General Attitudes:

Sri Lankans are friendly and have relatively open attitudes. They value their ethnic and religious identity, loyalty to one’s group, and respect for others. Ethnic divisions run deep, and few people socialize outside of their respective groups. Tamils resent Sinhalese domination, and many still distrust official attempts to broaden their autonomy.

The two greatest values in society are the family and education. Family members help one another and are close-knit. Parents will sacrifice or work all their lives to provide their children with as much education as possible. Nearly all young people desire a good education. Teachers and persons with a university degree are highly respected in society. Material wealth is also desired, and people are willing to work hard to obtain it. The wealthy, especially those who have become successful in private business, are respected, but in a different way than educated people are. In other words, family and education are still more important than money.

The traditional caste system that once dominated society is fading in public life. Most Sri Lankans do not discuss it, and being from a lower caste usually does not limit one’s economic or political mobility. However, since one’s surname gives indication of caste, everyone is aware of his or her place within the system, and that awareness does play a role in social interaction. That is, people still marry and associate with others of the same caste. For religious ceremonies, certain castes perform certain functions.


Forms of greeting vary between ethnic groups. The traditional greeting of placing one’s palms together in front of the chest and bowing the head slightly is widely practiced. In formal circumstances, this is accompanied by the Sinhalese phrase Ayubowan or the Tamil Vannakkam. Both terms mean “May you be blessed with the gift of a long life.” The Muslim greeting Assalamu alaikum (Peace be upon you) is common. Men often shake hands with men while greeting, but they do not touch women in public.

Titles are important to Sri Lankans, even among close friends. Acquaintances and strangers use the more formal equivalents of “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and “Miss.” If one is speaking English, the title precedes the surname; otherwise, it follows the name. Colleagues might use the title with a given name. Among close friends and relatives, familial titles replace formal titles. For example, in Sinhala one addresses an older male friend as aiya (older brother), a younger female cousin as nangi (younger sister), and so on. It is common (even among those who do not speak English) to address an older man or woman as uncle or auntie.

Labor force:

7.67 million (2007 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

  • agriculture: 34.3%
  • industry: 25.3%
  • services: 40.4% (30 June 2006 est.)

Unemployment rate:

6.3% (2007 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

15.6% (2007 est.)

Natural resources:

limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower


$8.357 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)

Exports – commodities:

textiles and apparel, tea and spices; diamonds, emeralds, rubies; coconut products, rubber manufactures, fish

Exports - partners:

US 27.6%, UK 11.3%, India 9.3%, Belgium 4.7%, Germany 4.3% (2006)


$10.68 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)

Imports – commodities:

textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery and transportation equipment

Imports - partners:

India 19.5%, China 10.4%, Singapore 8.7%, Iran 5.6%, Malaysia 5%, Hong Kong 4.2%, Japan 4% (2006)



Sri Lanka.” CultureGrams World Edition. 2008. ProQuest. <>.


Sri Lanka.” Factsheet. May, 2007. Economist Intelligence Unit. <>


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