This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Demographic Legacy of Hugo Chavez

My view of the world is that demographic indicators allow us to read the social and political health of a group of people. Today's death of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is a good time to put that idea to the test. Chavez was certainly one of the most controversial leaders of this young century, and people tended to line up strongly for or against him, as noted in a lengthy piece in But what happened demographically during the 14 years that Chavez was in power? The population continued to grow pretty much unabated, from about 24 million in 1998 when he took office to an estimated 30 million today (keeping in mind that back in 1950 there were only 5 million Venezuelans). 

Population growth is fueled by a combination of declining mortality. Life expectancy for females went up from 75 when Chavez was first elected to 77 at the time of his death; and infant mortality declined from 19 to 16., Chavez may have gone to Cuba for his cancer treatment, but Venezuelan death rates are moving in the right direction. There is also a small amount of immigration (more people are coming in than are going out). At the same time, the total fertility rate declined from 2.7 to 2.5. Since this is still well above replacement level in a country whose life expectancy is several years above the world average, the age structure is very youthful (about 30 percent under age 15) and that is driving the growth in population. Indeed, although none of these demographic indicators is very startling, and they are all in what might be called a positive direction, whoever leads Venezuela into the future is going to have to help the country deal with a population that, according to UN population projections, will add another 10 million people over the next twenty years. Coping with that isn't going to be easy.


  1. Did you follow the last Venezuelan census? It struck me as very unreliable. Rich people lied about how many people lived in their homes, giving names of relatives now living abroad, to avoid possible expropriation. Poor people gave additional residents as well, in hopes of qualifying for free homes. Even so, the actual count came out about 2 million below the final number. The increase based on statistical tests struck me as extremely large given a country with something like 96% living in urban areas. I wondered if it was a political decision. A few reasons they may have boosted the count:
    - Pres. Chávez often said he wanted the country to grow to 50 million ASAP, and staff didn't like to cross him

    - Lower population would show extent of emigration

    - Higher population lowers the murder rate

    Evidence of possible manipulation:

    Population pyramids, while a bit distorted, don't show anything like the damage to the youth that one would expect given the wartime-or-more levels of violence in the country. Over 100,000 murders in 6 years in a country of that size should show up.

    The numbers, as you point out, show immigration rather than emigration. Anyone spending time in Venezuela knows that is absurd. No one moves there anymore, especially not for good. There may be a few more Chinese or Cuban professionals but they leave as soon as their year is up. Many old-time immigrants from Colombia are returning to their native land and emigration has surged, both among professionals and the working class. Look at the numbers of Venezuelans living abroad from other countries' counts to see the change.

    Every agency in Venezuela distorts stats to please the president. Note the oil production stats, or literacy.

    But I'm no demographer, and maybe I'm being ridiculous, paranoid, something.

    1. Since you've lived in Venezuela, I'm sure you have more insight than do I, but I haven't heard about problems with Censo 2011 and I can't find anything online, either in English or Spanish. Do you have some links? I agree that the positive (even if small) migration numbers seem suspicious. They come from the UN Population Division, but the US Census International Database shows a small net outmigration. Furthermore, their data suggest that outmigration was already underway prior to Chavez, so it is difficult to attribute that to the Chavez regime in any specific way.