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Ladinos, emigration rate, Mixco, Villa Nueva, Quetzaltenango

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Guatemala’s population, the largest of any Central American country, was estimated at 13,002,206 in 2008. Ladinos, who make up more than half the population according to official census statistics, outnumber Native Americans. Small groups of Guatemalans are descended from African and European immigrants. Ways of life differ widely in Guatemala, between ladinos and indigenous people, between urban and rural residents, between the more affluent and the very poor.

Guatemala has a young population, with 40 percent of the people under age 15 in 2008. The birth rate of 29 per 1,000 people is five times the death rate (5 per 1,000). Guatemala’s people suffer from one of the highest infant mortality rates in Central America, 29 deaths per 1,000 live births (2008), but that represents a significant improvement from 125 per 1,000 births in 1960. Life expectancy at birth is 70 years (68 years for males and 72 for females), among the lowest in the region.

The estimated 2008 population density of the country was 120 persons per sq km (311 per sq mi). The majority of the population lives around Guatemala City and in the western highlands. Both coasts are more lightly settled, and the large Peten region has a very small population. In 1995, 1 of every 500 Guatemalans left the country, most fleeing from the violence of the civil war. However, the emigration rate was much lower than that of neighboring El Salvador, and some refugees who fled across the border to Mexico during the war returned to their homes in the 1990s.

Although 53 percent of Guatemalans still live in rural areas, a growing number moved to urban centers during the 20th century. The main causes of this urban migration were rapid population growth and the transfer of more and more land from subsistence farming to production of crops for export. As rural residents no longer had enough land on which to raise crops to feed their families, many sought opportunities in the cities.

Guatemala’s largest metropolitan region is Guatemala City and its surroundings, with an estimated population of 3.2 million in 2000. The capital city itself had 942,348 inhabitants (2002), and the next two largest municipalities in the country are both suburbs of Guatemala City: Mixco (403,689) and Villa Nueva (355,901). Quetzaltenango, a trade center in southwestern Guatemala, ranked fourth in size with 127,569, just ahead of San Pedro Carcha and Coban.


Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and the primary language of 60 percent of the population. For the rest of the population, the primary language is one of the more than 20 Mayan languages, including Cakchiquel, Quiche, and Kekchi. Many Mayan speakers also know Spanish. English is widely understood among the upper class and businesspeople, and there is a significant German-speaking community, descended from Germans who settled in Guatemala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Roman Catholicism traditionally has been the major religion of Guatemala since the Spanish conquest during the 16th century. However, many Native Americans have continued to practice their traditional religions, either separately or combined with Catholic beliefs. Protestant missionaries have worked in Guatemala since the mid-1800s but gained few converts until the 1960s, when Pentecostal evangelical sects began to grow rapidly in both rural and urban regions.

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