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Brazil - People

With its 200 million inhabitants [as of 2013], Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks fifth in the world [after China, India, the United States and Indonesia]. Though proud of its status as a "melting pot" in which different cultures and races exist side-by-side, racism remains a real and largely unacknowledged problem, and Brazil's indigenous population of some 700,000 individuals, scattered across the country in 225 different societies, continues to suffer from prejudice, violence, and marginalization. Organized crime, urban murder rates often ten times those in the most violent U.S. cities, and the second largest consumption of cocaine in the world are in need of urgent attention.

As its geography, population size, and ethnic diversity would imply, Brazil's cultural profile and achievements are extensive, vibrant, and constantly changing. Popular culture predominates, with a thriving popular music industry, relatively active cinema, and a highly developed television empire, producing an enormous number of soap operas (telenovelas) that have found a world market. The visual arts, especially painting, are lively, while literature and the theatre, although important, play a less prominent role in this fast-moving, media-oriented society. Traditionally, Brazilian culture has developed around regional subjects, with the country's northeast normally identified with national themes, both nativist and Afro-Brazilian, while the urban centers of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have demonstrated a tendency toward a more international, and European-oriented expression. With the post-1964 push to a more integrated national culture, these tendencies have diminished somewhat but remain central to understanding the uniqueness of this vast nation.

Although social welfare indicators in Brazil such as per capita income, life expectancy, and infant mortality do not compare favorably to those of certain of Brazil’s neighboring countries, statistics in the Human Development Report for 2007/2008, published by the United Nations Development Program, show that Brazil has made significant progress in improving social welfare over the past three decades. During that period, life expectancy in Brazil increased by approximately 20.5% (from 59.5 years in 1970-1975 to 71.7 years in 2005) and the infant mortality rate decreased 66.3% (from 95 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 31 per 1,000 live births in 2005). Adjusted for purchasing power parity by the United Nations, real GDP per capita rose 0.9% annually from 1975 to 2005. In addition, the reduction in inflation under the Plano Real and the consequent diminution of the erosion of purchasing power have improved the social welfare of large numbers of lower-income Brazilians.

Six major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern, and Japanese and other Asian immigrant groups who settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous peoples of Tupi and Guarani language stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was originally Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.

Brazil has traditionally been a net recipient of immigrants, with its southeast being the prime destination. After the importation of African slaves was outlawed in the mid-19th century, Brazil sought Europeans (Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, and Germans) and later Asians (Japanese) to work in agriculture, especially coffee cultivation. Recent immigrants come mainly from Argentina, Chile, and Andean countries (many are unskilled illegal migrants) or are returning Brazilian nationals. Since Brazil's economic downturn in the 1980s, emigration to the United States, Europe, and Japan has been rising but is negligible relative to Brazil's total population. The majority of these emigrants are well-educated and middle-class. Fewer Brazilian peasants are emigrating to neighboring countries to take up agricultural work.

From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants came mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong. Brazil prides itself on being open to all races but recently began a national conversation on racial equality and entered into a memorandum of understanding with the United States on addressing racial inequality.

Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. About three-quarters of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are members of traditional Protestant denominations, members of growing evangelical movements, or follow practices derived from African religions.

Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, make up less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), National Health Foundation, and 2010 census, there were approximately 896,900 indigenous persons (0.5 percent of the national population), representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups and 274 languages. Almost 503,000 lived in 4,774 villages spread over 505 formally recognized indigenous lands covering 12 percent of the national territory. Brazilian Government programs to establish indigenous reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years but are controversial. Approximately 99 percent of the indigenous lands are concentrated in the Amazon region. The law grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and exclusive use of their traditional lands. The law provides indigenous persons exclusive beneficial use of the soil, waters, and minerals on indigenous lands, but Congress must approve each case.

Sao Paulo is the second most populous city in the world, with almost 20 million people. Urban growth has been rapid; by 1984 the urban sector included more than two-thirds of the total population. Increased urbanization has aided economic development but, at the same time, has created serious social and political problems in the major cities. The majority of people live in the south-central area, which includes the industrial cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. Brazil underwent rapid urban growth; by 2005, 81% of the total population was living in urban areas. This growth aids economic development but also creates serious social, security, environmental, and political problems for major cities.

Brazil's rapid fertility decline since the 1960s is the main factor behind the country's slowing population growth rate, aging population, and fast-paced demographic transition. Brasilia has not taken full advantage of its large working-age population to develop its human capital and strengthen its social and economic institutions. The current favorable age structure will begin to shift around 2025, with the labor force shrinking and the elderly starting to compose an increasing share of the total population. Well-funded public pensions have nearly wiped out poverty among the elderly, but limited social spending on children has restricted investment in education - a primary means of escaping poverty. Brazil's poverty and income inequality levels remain high despite improvements in the 2000s and continue to disproportionately affect the Northeast, North, and Center-West, women, and black, mixed race, and indigenous populations. Disparities in opportunities foster social exclusion and contribute to Brazil's high crime rate, particularly violent crime in cities and favelas.

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Page last modified: 21-04-2020 19:02:00 ZULU