Venezuela Table of Contents
Sixth in size among the Latin American countries, Venezuela was one of the Western Hemisphere's least densely populated countries. But despite a low overall population density (21.4 persons per square kilometer in 1987), distribution was extremely uneven (see table 2; table 3, Appendix). Most of its nearly 20 million inhabitants (19,698,104, according to a mid-1990 estimate) were concentrated in the western Andean region and along the coast. Although nearly half of the land area lies south and east of the Río Orinoco, that area contained only about 4 percent of the population in the late 1980s. About 75 percent of the total population lived in only 20 percent of the national territory, mainly in the northern mountains (Caracas and surrounding areas) and the Maracaibo lowlands. In the 1990s, the north, the site of most of the country's first colonial cities, agricultural estates, and urban settlements, remained the administrative, economic, and social heartland of the country. Most of the population was concentrated along the coast and in the valleys of the coastal mountain ranges, and about one of every five Venezuelans lived in Caracas. Only three major inland urban centers existed in the early 1990s: Barquisimeto, Ciudad Guayana, and Valencia. This concentration of population persisted in spite of a number of government programs that provided incentives to relocate industry and tried to expand educational opportunities throughout the rest of the country.
Venezuela's population growth rate (2.5 percent in 1990) remained among the highest in the world, fed by both a high birth rate (28 births per 1,000 population in 1990) and a comparatively low death rate (4 deaths per 1,000 population in 1990)--mainly a result of improved health and sanitary conditions after World War II. The average annual population increase for the period 1950-86 was 3.4 percent. Only in the 1970s and 1980s did it begin to decline somewhat, dropping to 2.7 percent by 1986 and to 2.5 percent by 1990. This trend was all the more surprising in light of the widespread availability of contraceptives and Venezuelans' comparatively high education level and standard of living, social indicators that normally correlate with much lower rates of natural increase.
On average, postwar Venezuela roughly doubled its population every twenty years. The prevailing demographic patterns indicated that the population would more than double during the period 1990-2010. The number of births per woman, however, had begun to decline by 1990 (to 3.4), and this eventually should be reflected in lower growth figures. But any substantial reduction in the overall growth rate was not expected until sometime in the twenty-first century.
Although population figures based on census data were quite accurate for the decades after World War II, the same could not be said for the figures on mortality, particularly the figures generated at the state level. Deaths were undercounted, particularly those of infants and young children. Thus, one could not reliably compare mortality rates among individual states because a higher mortality rate in one state might not, in fact, reflect greater mortality, but simply better record keeping. Nationally, the infant mortality rate in 1990 was 27 deaths per 1,000 live births, and life expectancy was seventy-one years for males and seventy-seven years for females. Both of these figures ranked among the best in Latin America (see Health and Social Security , this ch.).
In the mid-1980s, about 40 percent of the population was under fifteen years of age; about 70 percent was under thirty (see fig. 3). The last major influx of European immigrants took place in the early 1950s, when large numbers of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants arrived, attracted by massive government construction projects. The 1981 census showed that 94 percent of the people were native born. Of the foreign born, most came from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Africa, and Colombia. As of 1986, about 17,000 United States citizens also were living in Venezuela.
Data as of December 1990
Venezuela Table of Contents