Ethnicity, Religion, and Demographic Behavior in Nigeria

  • Holly E. Reed
  • Blessing U. Mberu
Part of the International Handbooks of Population book series (IHOP, volume 4)


Nigeria, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), is made up of a complex mix of ethnic, religious, and regional groups. This diversity creates a web of individual, intersecting, and recursive identities, which are considered by many to be the main sources of the violent conflicts that frequently erupt there. Ethnic, religious and regional identities generate the fiercest contestation among Nigeria’s estimated 250–400 ethnic groups around the control of state power, resource allocation, and citizenship. Consequently, disintegration, secession, civil strife, civil war, minority agitation, and violent conflicts, are recurrent common threats or actual occurrences in post independence Nigeria. Ethnic identity is the most basic and politically salient form of identity in Nigeria. In competitive and non-competitive settings, Nigerians are more likely to define themselves in terms of their ethnic affinities than any other identity. In addition to ethnicity, religious identity is also important in Nigeria; religion is usually classified as one of three categories – Christian, Muslim, or Traditional. The chapter begins with a brief historical overview of Nigeria and its challenge of ethnic, regional, and religious conflict. This section is followed by five sub-sections examining the ethnic and religious dimensions of, in turn, (a) the country’s population structure; (b) fertility; (c) morbidity and mortality; (d) migration; and (e) other socio-demographic outcomes. We particularly focus on the phenomenon of overlapping stratification in Nigeria for those living in the North who are Muslim or Traditionalist, and how poverty is concentrated among these groups, compounded by rural residence, agricultural employment, high fertility, and low levels of education. We discuss the methodological issues surrounding the measurement of ethnicity and religion, future research needs, and data availability and data quality challenges. Finally, in the concluding sub-section of the chapter, we outline key elements of future demographic trends and population policy options in Nigeria.


Ethnic Identity Total Fertility Rate Fertility Decline Niger Delta Religious Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We wish to thank Gabriel Saldarriaga for his excellent research assistance and Jacques Emina for his useful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queens CollegeCity University of New York (CUNY)QueensUSA
  2. 2.Urbanization & Wellbeing ProgramAfrican Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)NairobiKenya

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