The continent’s demographics reflect an unusual settlement history: South America is a “hollow continent,” with most of the population concentrated around its margins. The highest population densities are found in the old Indian core areas of the Andes, the former slave areas of northeastern Brazil, and the areas of European immigration in southern Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The interior is relatively empty because of the decline in Indian populations, poor communications with coastal areas, and the absence of economic opportunities capable of attracting large numbers of immigrants. Another characteristic of South American demography is a high rate of population growth in tropical regions coupled with moderate growth in the temperate southern cone. The high tropical growth rates, however, have begun to diminish. Both South American demography and history can be explained through the changing patterns of birth and death rates and immigration caused by the Iberian conquest and by subsequent economic development. After the conquest, diseases such as smallpox, measles, malaria, and yellow fever decimated Indian populations, leading to a long-term pattern of high death rates and declining or stagnant populations, even where fertility was high.
Beginning in the area of European migration and extending throughout the continent after World War II, innovations in public health, such as safe drinking water and vaccines, have resulted in a dramatic drop in death rates everywhere except remote rural areas and urban slums.
The resultant population explosion has been caused by a traditionally high fertility rate and a modern low mortality rate. The situation can be thought of as the second of three stages. The first stage, which characterized most of South America during the 18th and 19th centuries, involved a rough population balance maintained by high death and birth rates.
The second, transitional, phase has consisted of a population explosion brought about by declining mortality and continued high fertility. The third is a modern stage where low fertility and low mortality bring population stability. Fertility rates are a result of many factors, including the availability and cultural acceptability of birth-control measures.
In general, economic factors increasingly have come to dominate in decisions regarding family size, including the benefits of young children to families and the costs of rearing children to adulthood. Children traditionally have had considerable value in helping families in their farming or urban-craft livelihoods and in providing security for the elderly. The costs of maintaining children in such circumstances were low, and women had few opportunities outside the household to compete with child-raising. Changes in fertility in South America have occurred with the expansion of mandatory education, which simultaneously has raised the cost of rearing children, reduced their benefits to families, and provided young women with the education needed to seek employment. A decline in birth rates occurred in the early 2000s because of improved access to birth control. Birth rates declined first in the prosperous areas of the southern cone, but all regions have experienced the effects of growing educational and employment opportunities for young women in an increasingly urbanized environment. "South America" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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