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Uruguay: Emigration
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Population > Emigration


Since the 1950s, Uruguay's traditional pattern of net immigration has given way to a severe pattern of emigration, which has been of concern to the authorities. This wasparticularly worrisome because those most likely to leave were the youngest and best-educated citizens. The emigration of youth and the country's aging population had created a very high dependency ratio and serious difficulties for Uruguay's social security system. A famous piece of black-humored graffiti in the port of Montevideo in the early 1970s read: "Last one to leave, please turn off the lights!" Estimates of emigration as high as one-third of the population have, however, been wildly exaggerated.

Economics motivated emigration in the 1960s, but political repression became a major factor during the 1973-85 military regime. Official figures suggest that 180,000 people left Uruguay from 1963 to 1975. In 1973 about 30,000 left, in 1974 nearly 60,000, and in 1975 nearly 40,000. According to the General Directorate of Statistics and Census, 150,000 Uruguayans left the country between 1975 and 1985. By 1989 only 16,500 of them had returned. If the 180,000 who left between 1963 and 1975 are added, the proportion of the population that emigrated from 1963 to 1985 can be estimated at about one-tenth. Along with the lowbirth rate, this is the major explanation for the country's low population growth rate.

Most of the emigrants were young. Of those who emigrated between 1963 and 1975, 17.7 percent were aged fourteen or younger, 68 percent were between the ages of fifteen and thirtynine, and only 14.3 percent were forty years or older. Those leaving were on average also better educated than the total population. Only 1.5 percent were uneducated, 52.1 percent had completed primary school, 33.6 percent had attended secondary school or teachers' training colleges, and 12.8 percent had attended university or technical college.

In the late 1980s, the lack of jobs for young people was again a fundamental factor contributing to emigration. Those people leaving Uruguay were not only younger and better educated than the population as a whole but also tended to have more job skills. Among those aged fourteen and older who emigrated from 1963 to 1975 and who were economically active, the relative proportions of different occupations were as follows: professionals, technicians, managers, and administratorsmade up 12.8 percent, 2.9 percentage points higher than in the economically active population (EAP) as a whole in 1975; office employees constituted 16 percent of those emigrating, 4.3 points above their share of the EAP; salespeople made up 12.4 percent of emigrants, 2 points above the EAP; and drivers, skilled and unskilled workers, and day laborers constituted 34.2 percent of the EAP in 1975, but 47.6 percent of those emigrating.

On the one hand, the proportion of emigrants who had worked as domestic servants was 10.4 percent, close to their share of the EAP. On the other hand, whereas 18.2 percent of the EAP was classified as farmers and fishermen in 1975, these made up only 0.8 percent of those leaving the country in the previous twelve years.

By far the most popular destination for Uruguayan emigrants was Argentina, which in the first half of the 1970s took over one-half of the emigrants. Also important were the United States and Australia, followed by Spain, Brazil, and Venezuela. Small numbers of artists, intellectuals, and politiciansexperiencing persecution emigrated to Western Europe, notably to the Netherlands and Spain. Many of these political exiles, however, chose to return to Uruguay after 1984.

The Uruguayan community in Argentina was officially given as 58,000 in 1970 but was actually much larger. Many Uruguayans in Argentina returned to Montevideo at election time to vote. Political exiles were allowed to return to Uruguay after 1984, but many of them found it difficult to make a living. This was even true in those cases where they had the right to return to former government posts, for example in education. Often they expressed shock at the decay of public services and the dilapidated state of buildings compared with their memories of Montevideo.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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