Covering an area of 335,000 sq. km (130,000 sq. miles) and home to five million people, Finland has a relatively low population density -- about 38 people per square mile. More than one-third of its territory lies above the Arctic Circle, home to one of its large minority groups -- the Sami. Helsinki, the capital, has a population of about half a million.

Finland's welfare system is among the best in the world. Universal health care is offered, supplemented by extensive preventive health education. Maternal health is stressed through free medical care and a "maternity package" consisting of either money for the infant's basic needs or the actual products, such as clothes, diapers, bottles, and bibs (only 15% of families choose the cash). Families with children under 17 also receive allowances from the state. Children get free medical and dental care through the age of 19.

Finland's literacy rate is nearly 100%. This has been achieved through an emphasis on bilingualism (Finnish and Swedish) as well as free schooling. All primary education and university courses are conducted in Finnish and Swedish -- the two official languages. Because of the obscurity of the Finnish language, Finns have had to master other languages, primarily English, French, and German. Students are required to attend 10 years of primary school, after which they can pursue vocational training or university studies. Finland is arguably the best-educated nation in Europe.

The Finns are generally a homogenous group, having one of the most genetically pure gene pools in the world. Most Finns live in the southern region, many in the Helsinki area. Finland's two principal minority groups -- the Sami in the north and the Roma (gypsies) in the south -- constitute less than 1% of the entire population. Immigration is discouraged; most of the country's present immigrant population -- about 20,000 -- are refugees.

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