The FYROM had an estimated population of 2,054,800 in 2002, with an average population density of 80 persons per sq km (207 per sq mi). Some 62 percent of the population lives in urban areas, mainly in the five largest cities: the capital Skopje, Bitola, Prilep, Kumanovo, and Tetovo.
The FYROM has one of the most complex ethnic populations in Europe. In a census taken under international control in 1994, Macedonian Slavs made up 67 percent of the population. These Macedonian Slavs are traditionally Orthodox Christians and speak a South Slavic language called Macedonian. This language is closely related to Bulgarian. Neighboring Bulgaria does not recognize Macedonian as a separate language. The Orthodox Christians who are Macedonian Slavs belong to the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
The census taken in 1994 showed that 23 percent of the population of the FYROM consisted of ethnic Albanians, the same stock as the ethnic Albanians of neighboring Albania and the Kosovo (administered by UN) province of Serbia. Macedonian Albanians speak Albanian and are overwhelmingly Muslim. They claim that they make up even more than the 23 percent of the population shown in the 1994 census. The ethnic Albanian population is concentrated in western FYROM, bordering Kosovo (administered by UN) and Albania. Three-fourths of the population in Tetovo was ethnic Albanian. Tensions between the ethnic Albanian and the majority Macedonian Slav population have increased since the FYROM gained independence in 1991. Other minority groups include Turks (4 percent), Roma or Gypsies (2 percent), and Serbs (2 percent).
While the overall population growth rate of the FYROM is relatively low (0.4 percent in 2002), the ethnic Albanians have a growth rate substantially higher than that of the Macedonian Slavs. In the 1990s this difference produced an increase in the ethnic Albanian population relative to that of the Macedonian Slavs.
Education is free and compulsory from age 7 through 15. The literacy rate is almost 90 percent. In 1998, 104 percent of eligible boys and 102 percent of eligible girls were enrolled in elementary schools. However, only 52 percent of eligible young men and 48 percent of eligible young women were enrolled in secondary schools. There are two officially accredited universities, the University of Skopje (founded in 1949) and the University of Bitola (1979). Ethnic Albanian authorities in Tetovo proclaimed the founding of an Albanian-language university there in 1995, but the university has not been granted recognition by the government, which has tried to suppress it.