Mexico Table of Contents

The eleventh annual census, conducted in 1990, reported a total Mexican population of 81,250,000. This figure represented a 2.3 percent per annum growth rate from the 1980 census and indicated successful government efforts at slowing down the level of population increase. The government reported that the population stood at 91,158,000 at the end of 1995, a 1.8 percent increase over the previous year. Assuming that this most recent level of growth were maintained through the rest of the 1990s, Mexico's population would stand at approximately 100 million persons in the year 2000. A return to the higher 1980 to 1990 growth rate, however, would result in a population total of approximately 102 million persons by the year 2000.

The pace of migration to the United States increased markedly during the 1980s. One analyst, Rodolfo Corona Vázquez, estimated that 4.4 million Mexicans resided outside the country (almost all in the United States) in 1990, roughly double the estimated number in 1980. Corona Vázquez also noted a changing pattern of emigration since the 1960s. Seven contiguous states in north central Mexico--Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Durango, San Luis Potosí, and Aguasca-lientes--accounted for approximately 70 percent of all emigrants in 1960, but only 42 percent in 1990. New important sources of emigration included Chihuahua in the northeast, the Federal District (the administrative unit that includes Mexico City), and the southernmost state of Oaxaca.

Notable variations exist in the country's population density. Four states, three of them in the arid northwest, had fewer than ten persons per square kilometer in 1990, and another thirteen states, mostly in the north, had density levels between ten and fifty persons per square kilometer. By contrast, two states clustered near the capital had densities in excess of 200 persons per square kilometer. The rate in Mexico City itself was approximately 5,500 persons per square kilometer (see table 2, Appendix).

The state of Mexico and the Federal District accounted for over 22 percent of the national population in 1990. The state of Mexico's spectacular population growth (the state alone accounted for more than 12 percent of national totals) reflected the expansion of the Mexico City metropolitan area. Almost 69 percent of the state of Mexico's population resided in the twenty-seven municipalities that, together with the Federal District, comprise the Mexico City metropolitan area. More than 40 percent of state residents lived in four working-class municipalities--Nezahualcóyotl, Ecatepec, Naucalpán, and Tlalnepantla--that serve as bedroom communities for Mexico City.

During the course of its history, Mexico has experienced dramatic shifts in population. Demographers estimate that the country's population at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s was approximately 20 million. By 1600, however, barely 1 million remained--the result of deadly European diseases and brutal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish colonizers. At the onset of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, Mexico's population stood at approximately 15 million persons. Not until 1940 did Mexico reach the population level it had in 1519.

Although the population growth between 1910 and 1940 appeared relatively modest in absolute numbers, the seeds were sown for a spectacular increase over the next thirty years. Because of advances in preventive medicine and the gradual control of diseases such as yellow fever, the crude death rate declined from 33.2 per 1,000 inhabitants in the period 1905 to 1910 to 23.4 in 1940 (see table 3, Appendix). As sanitation conditions improved in post-World War II Mexico, the crude death rate dropped sharply to 10.1 by 1970. At the same time, however, fertility rates (the number of children the average woman would bear from fifteen to forty-nine years of age) remained relatively stable. Because of the stable fertility rate and declining death rate, the population increased by 2.7 percent per annum between 1940 and 1950, by 3.1 percent per annum between 1950 and 1960, and by 3.4 percent per annum between 1960 and 1970. By 1970 Mexico's population stood at approximately 48.2 million persons, almost two and one-half times its pre-World War II number. Demographers in 1970 ominously forecast that the population would reach 125 million persons by the year 2000.

Shortly after assuming the presidency in 1976, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1976-82) adopted an aggressive national family planning program. This effort paid immediate dividends by reducing Mexico's fertility rate from 5.4 in 1976 to 4.6 in 1979. The family planning initiative produced a fundamental change in attitudes that continued and accelerated into the 1990s. Indeed, the government reported that the fertility rate had declined to 2.9 in 1993. This lower fertility rate produced a slightly older average population in 1990, compared with two decades earlier. In 1970, 46.2 percent of all Mexicans were younger than fifteen years of age, and 56.7 percent were under twenty years of age. By 1990, these numbers had dropped to 38.3 and 50.6 percent, respectively.

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Mexico.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress