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Guatemala, People

ladinos, Quetzaltenango, Mixco, Guatemalans, subsistence farming

Guatemala’s population, the largest of any Central American country, is 13,314,079 (2002 estimate). It is almost evenly divided between Native Americans and ladinos, but also includes small groups descended from African and European immigrants. Within the population are widely varied ways of life, differing between ladinos and indigenous people, between urban and rural residents, between the more affluent and the very poor.

Guatemala has a young population, with 16 percent under age 5 and 26 percent age 5 to 15 in 2002. The birth rate of 34 per 1,000 population is five times the death rate (7 per 1,000). Guatemala’s people suffer from one of the highest infant mortality rates in Central America, 45 deaths per 1,000 live births (2002), but that represents a significant improvement from 125 per 1,000 births in 1960. Life expectancy at birth is 67 years (64 years for males and 70 for females), among the lowest in the region.

The estimated 2002 population density of the country was 122 persons per sq km (317 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 have been returning to their homes in the 1990s.

Although 60 percent of Guatemalans still live in rural areas, in the 20th century an increasing number moved to urban centers. The main causes of this 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 have enough land to feed themselves, many seek opportunities in the cities.

The largest metropolitan region is Guatemala City and its surroundings, with an estimated population of 2.3 million in 1996. The capital city itself had 1,015,303 inhabitants (2000 estimate), and the next two largest municipalities in the country are both suburbs of Guatemala City: Mixco and Villa Nueva. Quetzaltenango, a trade center in southwestern Guatemala, ranked fourth in size with 148,108, just ahead of San Pedro Carcha and Coban.

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