Breaking down Brazil’s population

. Oct 15, 2017
Brazil’s population stats Photo: Archive ANPr

Brazil currently has a population of 207,995,710, with one new Brazilian born about every 21 seconds. By the time the next census is released in 2020, Brazil is expected to be home to some 209 million people.

The country is also home to Latin America’s most populous city, São Paulo, which has over 12 million inner-city inhabitants. São Paulo is also the 12th largest city in the world by population, and the São Paulo state, with 45,149,486 inhabitants, is also our country’s most populated. Rio de Janeiro is our second-biggest metropolis with nearly 6.5 million residents, making it Latin America’s fourth most populous city. And Rio de Janeiro is also our country’s third-largest state, with 16,703,981 people.

But the spread of Brazil’s population is, of course, far more complex.

The state of Minas Gerais has the second highest population per state, with 21,091,170 inhabitants. Yet <em>mineiros</em> are not concentrated in sprawling urban centers to the same extent as São Paulo or Rio – its biggest city is Belo Horizonte, with 2.5 million residents. Only two other cities in the state have a population of more than half a million, and Minas Gerais is also home to the country’s smallest city, Serra da Saudade, which has just over 800 inhabitants.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1875369" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Brazil’s population: distribution</h2> <p>Brazil’s population is largely concentrated along its coastal fringes, with its most populous states and cities dotting its coastline. This dates back to <a href="">colonization</a>: settlers built homes in the country’s Southeast, where the climate was more palatable to Europeans and where the terrain was both more accessible, as well as amenable to agricultural activity.</p> <p>The tropical, drought-prone climes of the North and Northeast, plus its wild terrain and the untameable Amazon region, meant that its original inhabitants were far more adventurous in attempting to set up shop than their more southern counterparts. The forested interior was also home to Brazil’s indigenous tribes, though explorers brought diseases and weaponry that devastated the population.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="881" height="736" src="" alt="territory" class="wp-image-26728" srcset=" 881w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 881px) 100vw, 881px" /></figure> <p>Despite developments that turned further-flung settlements into cities and imposed transport infrastructure on the Brazilian wilderness, this coastal concentration still remains today. After all, Brazil’s South and Southeast region were recipients of large-scale investment, as well as both international immigration and internal migration. Some of Brazil’s most celebrated literary classics, like Mario de Andrade’s <em>Macunaíma</em>, examine journeys made by individuals from the poorer North and Northeastern regions to lucrative southern cities in hopes of prosperity.</p> <p>Today, Brazil’s smallest populations are in states that border on the vast expanses of the Amazon rainforest. Roraima is the smallest, with just 521,337 inhabitants. But the states of Acre and Amapá also have populations of under a million.</p> <h2>Inequality</h2> <p>Brazil hasn’t changed much since 1974 when, in an attempt to summarize the country’s income inequality, Brazilian economist Edmar Bacha coined the term “Belíndia” to describe the manifestation of wealth disparities in the country: large swathes of impoverished India, surrounding small pockets of Belgium.</p> <p>By 2014, these extremes were modified only slightly: Brazil’s richest region, the capital Brasília resembled Italy rather than Belgium when it came to GDP. Its poorest states, meanwhile – Maranhão (MA) and Piauí (PI) – now have an average GDP closer to Jordan than to India. Nevertheless, these figures still represent a huge disparity: 37,651 BRL per capita in the capital, compared to 4,681 BRL in MA and PI.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1875481" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>Lula’s government still receives much of the credit for pulling approximately 36 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty. This happened through a conditional cash-transfer program for low-income households across Brazil called <em>Bolsa Família</em> (Family Wallet). Households receive stipends based on per-head income, under the condition that children go to school and receive their vaccines.</p> <p>In reality, <em>Bolsa Família</em> was a formalized accumulation of several of the previous administration’s most successful social policies – but together, it did the trick. However, American journalist Alex Cuadros notes that at the same time that Lula introduced the program, “he spoke the language of consumerism” and “expanded credit to people who had never had it before,” encouraging people to buy cars, televisions, fridges and washing machines.</p> <h2>Disparities today</h2> <p>Between 2003 and 2011, 9 million Brazilians entered the country’s upper and upper-middle classes, while approximately 40 million – equal to the entire population of Algeria – joined the so-called middle class. By 2012, Brazilians from every class were busy buying.</p> <p>Families doubled the amount they spent on food. Households invested in appliances, entertainment, vehicles, clothing, and healthcare. Middle classes increased cigarette consumption by 0.5 percent; upper-middle classes sent their children to private schools; the financial elites bought CDs, DVDs, and financial products.</p> <p>By 2012, the number of households with televisions overtook the number of households with fridges. Brazilians became the fifth most optimistic consumers in the world – but perhaps most striking is how this was distributed across Brazil. While the Southeast had the country’s most affluent consumers during Brazil’s boom, consumerism in the North grew four times faster than in the Southeast.</p> <p>The legacy of this exists today. Wealth discrepancy shows itself not just in the vastly unequal GDP distribution per state, but by what each household owns. Moreover, this same variation between poorer, rural locales and richer metropolitan areas remains. States in Brazil’s interior, North, and Northeast, in addition to lower GDP, are emblematic of this contrast. In Amapá state, for example, 89.2 percent of households have a mobile phone – but just 2.4 percent have access to sanitation at home.</p> <p>Though it is true only for the states of Amapá and Piauí that under ten percent of the population has access to sanitation, most Brazilian states still have similarly sizeable gaps. 74 percent of Maranhão households have mobile phones, but only 19.4 percent have sanitation. And in Rio Grande do Norte, the number of houses with access to mobile phones is three times higher than the number with access to sanitation.

Read the full story NOW!

The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at