The population of Paraguay remained small throughout the colonial period. After the end, around 1600, of the initial influx of conquistadores, virtually no further immigration took place until the late eighteenth century. As late as 1700 the population of the province of Paraguay was estimated at no more than 40,000; on the eve of independence in 1811 it was estimated to have risen to 97,460 on the basis of a census carried out in 1796. However, this figure did not include the native population. During the nationalist period, the population is estimated to have grown from around 250,000 in 1828 to 350,000 in 1857.
A 1999 study by Thomas Whigham and Barbara Potthast provides important new evidence on the demographic impact of the War of the Triple Alliance (1865–1870), which many historians have described as genocidal. The authors, who conclude that there was indeed a catastrophic loss of population during the war, analyzed a census from 1870 that in December 1989 was discovered in the ministry of defense. They calculate that the population fell from between 420,000 and 450,000 in 1864 to between 140,000 and 166,000. This represents a loss of 60 to 69 percent of the prewar population, far higher even than previous estimates.
Census data for the period 1887–2002 are shown in Table 1. In 1981 the first census of indigenous peoples revealed a total of 38,703. This rose to 87,099 by the time of the second such census in 2002, equivalent to 1.7 percent of the national population.
|Census data, Paraguay, 1887–2002|
From 1981 to 1989 the population growth rate was 3.1 percent, one of the highest in Latin America; almost among the highest in the region was the gross fertility rate, at 5.3 live births per woman. By the years 2000 to 2005, the growth rate had fallen to 2.0 percent because of a combination of lower fertility and mortality rates and higher net emigration. Infant mortality has decreased significantly since the 1960s to 39 per 1,000 live births in 1998. Life expectancy at birth is about sixty-five years for men and about seventy years for women. The population is young, with more than half under twenty years of age.
Emigration has been high since the midtwentieth century, especially among men seeking employment in neighboring Argentina and, increasingly, in Spain. About 25 percent of all Paraguayans live outside their country. As a result of emigration from rural areas, migration to cities has been slower than in many Latin American countries. It was not until 1992 that more than half the population (50.3 percent) lived in urban areas, reaching 56.7 percent by 2002. Internal migration is mainly to the Asunción metropolitan area, which has an estimated population of 1.5 million.
According to the latest population census carried out by the Dirección General de Estadística, Encuestas y Censos (DGEEC), the national statistics office, in August 2002 Paraguay had a population of 5.16 million. This was considerably lower than previous official estimates. The DGEEC subsequently adjusted its population estimate to 5,542,886 to correct for under-registration. The estimated population for mid-2006 was 6,009,143.
Bertoni, Guillermo T., and J. Richard Gorham. "The People of Paraguay: Origins and Numbers." In Paraguay: Ecological Essays, ed. J. Richard Gorham, pp. 109-140. Miami, FL: Academy of the Arts and Sciences of the Americas, 1973.
Dirección General de Estadística, Encuestas y Censos. Paraguay: Resultados Finales: Censo Nacional de Población y Viviendas, Año 2002. Asunción: DGEEC, 2004.
Mora Mérida, José Luís. "La demografía colonial para-guaya." Jahrbuch für Geschichte von Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas (Cologne) 11 (1974): 52-77.
Whigham, Thomas Lyle, and Barbara Potthast. "The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone: New Insights into the Demographics of the Paraguayan War, 1864–1870." Latin American Research Review 34, no. 1 (1999): 174-186.