Migration and Urbanization

Brazil Table of Contents

Immigration from Europe and the African slave trade, which were the prime sources of population growth during much of Brazil's history, became demographically insignificant by the 1930s. Subsequently, there were massive transfers of internal migrants from the Northeast and Minas Gerais to the growing urban centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Over time, there were successive waves of significant but less voluminous counterflows to frontier areas in Paraná, the Center-West, and finally the Amazon. The government's colonization plans, which included settlement along the Trans-Amazonian Highway, stimulated internal migration. However, the last cycle of frontier expansion came to a close, at least temporarily, in the late 1980s.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, some 20 million people moved from rural to urban areas in Brazil. This population movement constitutes one of the largest of its kind in history. Brazil's urban population (by the official definition) grew at rates of about 5 percent per year and accounted for 56 percent of the total population in 1970, 68 percent in 1980, and 75 percent in 1991. During most of the post-World War II period, the largest cities grew fastest as a result of gradual migration to progressively larger cities. In the 1980s, however, the proportion of Brazil's population living in metropolitan areas dropped from 29 percent to 28 percent. The new pattern of population redistribution revealed by the 1991 census involved less interregional migration, with more people staying in their regions of origin or moving to large cities nearby rather than to megacities.

Numerous efforts have been made at the policy level to stimulate settlement in the interior, including colonization in the Amazon, and to limit the growth of the largest cities while strengthening middle-sized cities. Despite these efforts, however, most public policies have continued to favor population concentration in the Southeast and in large cities by promoting industry at the cost of agriculture and by providing services and benefits primarily to urban residents.

During the 1980s, as a result of economic crisis and improved transportation services, emigration from Brazil increased to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Portugal, and Japan. For the first time ever, Brazil became a net exporter of population and thus entered a new stage in its demographic history. Some of the emigrants sought employment in menial jobs in developed countries; others were skilled personnel, including scientists and engineers. However, a noteworthy reverse brain drain also took place, with skilled workers from other Latin American countries and Europe constituting a significant proportion of new immigrants. Immigration increased from neighboring countries, especially members of the Common Market of the South (Mercado Comum do Sul--Mercosul; see Glossary), including Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, as well as from some countries in Africa and Asia.

More about the Population of Brazil.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress