Demographics of Peru

Demographics of Peru
Population map of Peru (regional).

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Peru, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Peru is a multiethnic country, which means that it is home to people of many different historical backgrounds. Therefore, it is a multicultural country as well. Since it is a multiethnic society, Peruvian people usually treat their nationality as a citizenship instead of an ethnicity. The Peruvian census does not contain information about ethnicity so only rough estimates are available. Its population can be composed of Amerindians: 45%,[1] Mestizos: 37%,[2] European: 15%,[2] Afro-Peruvians: 2%,[3] Asians and others: 1%.[4] Amerindians are found in the southern Andes, though a large portion, also to be found in the southern and central coast due to the massive internal labor migration from remote Andean regions to coastal cities,during the past four decades. While the Jungle are the "heart" of the indigenous populations of Peru, White people are mostly found in the northern highlands and are mostly of Spanish, Italian, British, French, German, Irish and Croatian descent.[citation needed]



Ages pyramid of Perú in 2007

Peru is a multiethnic country formed by the amalgamation of different cultures and ethnicities over thousands of years. Amerindians inhabited the land for several millennia before the Spanish conquest in the 15th century; their cultures and influence represent the foundation of today’s Peru.

As a result of European contact and conquest, the population of the area now known as Peru decreased from an estimated 9 million in the 1520s to around 600,000 in 1620.[5] This happened mostly because of the unintended spread of germs and infectious diseases. In fact, the spread of smallpox greatly weakened the Inca empire, even before the Spanish arrival. The Amerindians did not have as much natural immunity to the disease as did the Europeans who had been exposed to smallpox for roughly two centuries.[6] For this reason, several Amerindian populations were decimated. Furthermore, the disease killed Inca ruler Wayna Capac, triggering a civil war in the Inca empire that preceded the conquest efforts the Spaniards. Thus, the conquest was facilitated by the weakness of the Inca empire which was recovering from both a civil war and epidemics of unknown diseases.

Peruvian girls

However, other reasons for the decrease of Amerindian population include the battles for domination and survival, followed by the breakdown of the Inca social system, famine, genocide, human exploitation, and forced mine labor to extract the gold and silver to ship back to Europe. Forced labor started after the settlement of the Spanish. The Amerindian population suffered further decrease as the Spanish exploited an Inca communal labor system called mita for mining purposes, thus annihilating thousands in forced labor.

Spaniards arrived in large numbers under colonial rule. After the independence, there has been a gradual European immigration from Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia and Spain.[7] Polynesians also came to the country lured to work in the Guano islands during the boom years of this commodity around the 1860s. Chinese arrived in the 1850s as a replacement for slave workers in the sugar plantations of the north coast and have since become a major influence in Peruvian society.[8] Other immigrant groups include Arabs, South Asians, Japanese and Americans from the United States.[citation needed]

Amerindians constitute around 45%[9] of the total population. The two major indigenous or ethnic groups are the Quechuas (belonging to various cultural subgroups), followed by the Aymaras, mostly found in the extreme southern Andes. A large proportion of the indigenous population who live in the Andean highlands still speak Quechua or Aymara, and have vibrant cultural traditions, some of which were part of the Inca Empire, arguably the most advanced agricultural civilization in the world. Literally dozens of indigenous cultures are also dispersed throughout the country beyond the Andes Mountains in the Amazon basin. This region is rapidly becoming urbanized. Important urban centers include Iquitos, Nauta, Puerto Maldonado, Pucallpa and Yurimaguas. This region is home to numerous indigenous peoples, though they do not constitute a large proportion of the total population. Examples of indigenous peoples residing in eastern Peru include the Shipibo, Urarina,[10] Cocama, and Aguaruna, to name just a few.

Mestizos compose about 37%[2] of the total population. The term traditionally denotes Amerindian and European ancestry (mostly Spaniard ancestry and to a lesser degree, Italian). This term, was part of the caste classification during colonial times, whereby people of exclusive Spanish descend but born in the colonies were called criollos, people of mixed Amerindian and Spanish descend were called mestizos, those of African and Spanish descend were called mulatos and those of Amerindian and African descend were called zambos. Nowadays, this terms have racist connotations.

Most Peruvian mestizos are of Amerindian and European descent, but other ethnic backgrounds (such as Asian, Middle Eastern and African) are also present, in varying degrees, in some segments of the mestizo population. Most mestizos are urban dwellers and show stronger European inheritance in regions like Lima Region, La Libertad Region, Callao Region, Pasco Region, Cajamarca Region, and Arequipa Region.

European descendants constitute around 15%[2] of the total population.[11] They are descendants of the Spanish colonizers and other Europeans such as Italians, British, French, Germans and Croatians (see also Croats) who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority of them live also in the largest cities (like mestizos), usually in the North and Center of Peru: Lima, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura, Cajamarca and San Martin. The only southern city with a significant white population is Arequipa. Recently, Peru has seen a migration of American retirees and businessmen come to settle in the country, due to lower cost of living and economic booms in the 1990s and 2000s, though Peru experiences busts in between.[citation needed]

Chinatown in Lima

There is also a large presence of Asian Peruvians, primarily Chinese and Japanese along with recent arrived Koreans and Taiwanese immigrants, that constitutes 3% of the population, which in proportion to the overall population is the second largest of any Latin American nation, after Panama. Peru has the second largest population of people of Japanese descent in Latin America after Brazil and the largest population of Chinese descent in Latin America. Historic communities inhabited by people of Chinese descent are found throughout the Peruvian upper Amazon, including cities such as Yurimaguas, Nauta, Iquitos and the north central coast (Lambayeque and Trujillo). In contrast to the Japanese community in Peru, the Chinese appear to have intermarried much more since they came to work in the rice fields during the Viceroyalty and to replace the African slaves, during the abolition of slavery itself. Despite the presence of Peruvians of Asian heritage being quite recent, in the past decade they have made significant advancements in business and political fields; a past president (Alberto Fujimori), several past cabinet members, and one member of the Peruvian congress are of Japanese or Chinese origin. Small numbers of Arab Peruvians, mostly of Lebanese and Syrian origin, and Palestinians also reside, as well a small Hindustani and Pakistani community.[citation needed]

El Señor de los Milagros Procession

The remaining is constituted by Afro-Peruvians, a legacy of Peru's history as an importer of slaves during the colonial period. Today also mulattos (mixed African and European) and zambos (mixed African and Amerindian) constitute an important part of the population as well, especially in Piura, Tumbes, Lambayeque, Lima and Ica regions. The Afro-Peruvian population is concentrated mostly in coastal cities south of Lima, such as that of those found in the Ica Region, in cities like Cañete, Chincha, Ica, Nazca and Acarí in the border with the Arequipa Region. Another large but poorly promoted segment of Afro-Peruvian presence is in the Yunga regions (west and just below the Andean chain of northern Peru), (i.e., Piura and Lambayeque), where sugarcane, lemon, and mango production are still of importance. Important communities are found all over the Morropón Province, such as in the city of Chulucanas. One of them is Yapatera, a community in the same city, as well as smaller farming communities like Pabur or La Matanza and even in the mountainous region near Canchaque. Further south, the colonial city of Zaña or farming towns like Capote and Tuman in Lambayeque are also important regions with Afro-Peruvian presence.

Socioeconomic and cultural indicators are increasingly important as identifiers. For example, Peruvians of Amerindian descent who have adopted aspects of Hispanic culture also are beginning to consider themselves "mestizo". With economic development, access to education, intermarriage, and large-scale migration from rural to urban areas, a more homogeneous national culture is developing, mainly along the relatively more prosperous coast. Peruvians view themselves as a racially mixed people: a "half indigenous, a third European, a sixth African and one part Asiatic" composition as a "melting pot" recipe for a Peruvian stew.[citation needed]

Most of Peru's population (about 50% percent) lives in the Costa (coastal area), while 36% live in the Sierra (the Andes) and only 12% in the Selva or Amazon rain forest[citation needed]. Almost one third of the nation's population lives in the Lima and Callao Metropolitan Area[citation needed]. Lima is home to over 8 million Peruvians, one of South America's largest urban areas, it includes the neighboring community of Callao that's grown fast and expanded since the 1960s.


Peru has two official languages--Spanish and the foremost indigenous language, Quechua. Spanish is used by the government and the media and in education and commerce. Amerindians who live in the Andean highlands speak Quechua and Aymara and are ethnically distinct from the diverse indigenous groups who live on the eastern side of the Andes and in the tropical lowlands adjacent to the Amazon basin.

Peru's distinct geographical regions are mirrored in a socioeconomic divide between the coast's mestizo-Hispanic culture and the more diverse, traditional Andean cultures of the mountains and highlands. The indigenous populations east of the Andes speak various languages and dialects. Some of these groups still adhere to traditional customs, while others have been almost completely assimilated into the mestizo-Hispanic culture.

Amerindian woman with child

Peru's official languages are Spanish and, according to the Peruvian Constitution of 1993, Amerindian languages such as Quechua, Aymara and other such indigenous languages in areas where they predominate. Today, Spanish is spoken by some 80.3% of the population, and is the language used by government, media, and in education and formal commerce. There has been an increasing and organized effort to teach Quechua in public schools in the areas where Quechua is spoken.

According to official sources, the use of Spanish has increased while the knowledge and use of indigenous languages has decreased considerably during the last four decades (1960–2000). At the beginning of the 1960s some 39% of the total Peruvian population were registered as speakers of indigenous languages, but by the 1990s the figures show a considerable decline in the use of Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous languages, when only 28% is registered as Quechua-speaking (16% of whom are reported to be bilingual in Spanish) and Spanish-speakers increased to 72%.

For 2005, government figures place Spanish as being spoken by 80.3% of the population, but among Amerindian languages another decrease is registered. Of the indigenous languages, Quechua remains the most spoken, and even today is used by some 16.2% of the total Peruvian population, or a third of Peru's total indigenous population. The number of Aymara-speakers and other indigenous languages is placed at 3%, and foreign languages 0.2%.

The drastic decline in use and knowledge of indigenous languages is largely attributed to the recent demographic factors. The urbanization and assimilation of Peru's Amerindian plurality into the Hispanic-mestizo culture, as well as the new socioeconomic factors associated with class structure have given privilege to the use of Spanish at the expense of the Amerindian languages which were spoken by the majority of the population less than a century ago.

The major obstacle to a more widespread use of the Quechua language is the fact that multiple dialects of this language exist. Quechua, along with Aymara and the minor indigenous languages, was originally and remains essentially an oral language. Therefore, there is a lack of modern media which use it: for example books, newspapers, software, magazines, technical journals, etc. However, non-governmental organizations as well as state sponsored groups are involved in projects to edit and translate major works into the Quechua language; for instance, in late 2005 a superb[citation needed] version of Don Quixote was presented in Quechua.

The percentage of native speakers of Quechua who are illiterate has been decreasing lately, as 86.87% of the Peruvian population is literate. More encouraging, nationwide literacy rate of youth aged 15 to 24 years is high, and considered an achievement in Peruvian educational standards.[citation needed]


Peruvian school children with an OLPC XO-1 laptop

Under the 1993 constitution, primary education is free and compulsory. The system is highly centralized, with the Ministry of Education appointing all public school teachers. Eighty-three percent of Peru's students attend public schools at all levels, but over 15 percent (usually the upper-classes) attend private schools if their parents can afford to pay for the tuition.

School enrollment has been rising sharply for years, due to a widening educational effort by the government and a growing school-age population. The illiteracy (2008) rate is estimated at 7.1% (10.6% for women), 19.0% in rural areas and 3.7% in urban areas [3]. Quechua is mostly an oral language, so in some cases, in rural areas, people do not speak Spanish and therefore do not know how to read or write. Elementary and secondary school enrollment is about 7.7 million. Peru's 74 universities (1999), 39% public and 61% private institutions, enrolled about 322,000 students in 1999.

See also


  1. ^ Peru, CIA - The World Factbook
  2. ^ a b c d Universia, Poblacion de Peru
  3. ^ Afro-Latino Roots
  4. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook -- Peru". Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  5. ^ Noble David Cook, Demographic collapse: Indian Peru, 1520–1620, p. 114.
  6. ^ The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs
  7. ^ Mario Vázquez, "Immigration and mestizaje in nineteenth-century Peru", pp. 79–81.
  8. ^ Magnus Mörner, Race mixture in the history of Latin America, p. 131.
  9. ^ Unicef, Atlas sociolingüístico de Pueblos Indígenas de América Latina Fichas nacionales [1]
  10. ^ Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [2]
  11. ^ Peru: Ethnic groups

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