Kerala Fact Sheet: 2002

Kerala: A state in Southwest India. The name "Kerala" probably means "land of coconuts."

Area: 38,863 km2, or 15,005 mi2. Kerala is about 1.8 times the size of New Jersey (8,215 sq mi). Kerala is approximately the area of Switzerland.

Population: 31.8 million according to the 2001 Indian national census—3.8 times New Jersey’s 8.4 million (in 2000). Kerala's population is the same as Canada's.

Population density of Kerala: 819 per km2 or 2,121 per mi2. Kerala is the 2nd most densely populated state in India (after West Bengal). New Jersey, with 1,134 persons per mi2, is the most densely populated U.S. state, about half as densely populated as Kerala.

Languages: Kerala’s people speak Malayalam, a non-Indoeuropean language of the Dravidian family, with major Sanskrit influences. Malayalam is written with its own alphabet. English is widely spoken.

kzmKXw = Swaagatam ["Welcome" in Malayalam]

Religious Groups:

Hindus: 60%
Muslims: 20%
Christians 19%
Small numbers of Buddhists, Jews, Parsis, and followers of tribal religions.


Rice, coconuts, coconut fiber rope and mats, arecanuts, pepper, rubber, tea, coffee, ginger, cardamom, shrimp, fish, mining, electronics, tiles, bricks, local products.

The Kerala Model:

Kerala is known to development scholars for its high material quality of life achievements despite slow economic growth and low incomes. The table below illustrates the main features of "The Kerala Model."


Quality of Life Indicators, 2000-2001

Indicator Kerala India Low-Income Countries(a) United States
Per Capita GDP $





At PPPd $





Adult Literacy Rate (%)





Life Expectancy in Years





Males (f)





Females (f)





Infant Mortality per 1,000





Birth Rate Per 1,000





Sources: Kerala State Planning Board Economic Review, 1999, 2000, and 2001; Indian Census of 1991; World Bank Report for 2002:232-233; UNDP Report for 2002.
aLow-income refers in 2000 to 63 economies with 2.5 billion persons with per capita GNP of $755 or less. With  India excluded, it refers to 62 countries, similar to the 37 countries used in Franke and Chasin 1989:11 for 1986 data and the 38 countries used in Franke and Chasin 1994:ii for 1991 data.
bWe estimated the dollar figure for Kerala by multiplying the State Government's 2000 per capita state domestic product figure of Rs 19,461 (GOK 2001:19) by 43, the approximate number of rupees per dollar during that year. We then added 25%, the highest estimated figure, to compensate for overseas remittances. We set the Kerala PPP by using the same ratio as for the all-India figure.
c1991 figures from Indian National Census 2001. The Indian census uses literacy at age 6 and above while the World Bank now uses the figure of 15 and above for adult literacy. The all-India literacy figure from the 2001 census is 76% for males and 54% for females.
dPurchasing power parity (PPP) reflects local prices and makes the income figures more directly comparable: one PPP dollar has the same purchasing power over domestic GDP as a dollar in the USA has over US GDP. See World Bank Report 1999:234.
e1995 figures
f Kerala figures are 1996-2000 average; GOK 2001:158

Further Reading:

Kerala: Radical Reform as Development in an Indian State. By Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin. 2nd edition. 1994. Oakland, CA: Food First Books. Distributed by Subterranean Company, P. O. Box 160, 265 South 5th Street, Monroe, Oregon 97456. 800-274-7826. ($10.95). An Indian edition has been published by Promilla and Co., Publishers, ‘Sonali,’ C-127, Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi, 100 017. Rs 95.
Politics, Women and Well Being: How Kerala Became ‘a Model.’ By Robin Jeffrey. 1993. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kerala: The Development Experience: Reflections on Sustainability and Replicability. Edited by Govindan Parayil. 2000.  London: Zed.

Web and Internet Contacts: offers access to the texts of several papers about Kerala, to Kerala bibliographies, to links to various Kerala and India home pages and to links to Malayalees in the USA and around the world.

Fact sheet prepared by Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin, Montclair State University. Last updated: 4 February, 2003.