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Bolivia: Population and Regional Distribution
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Population and Regional Distribution


Bolivia's distinctive topography and ecology have had an enduring impact on settlement patterns. They also have figured in the relations among the country's diverse groups because the isolation most communities and regions faced until at least the 1950s contributed to cultural diversity.

In mid-1989 Bolivia had an estimated population of 6.6 million with a projected annual growth rate of 2.5 to 2.6 percent from 1980 to 2000. The estimated population growth rate in 1989 was 2.1 percent. A death rate of 13 per 1,000 inhabitants and a life expectancy of fifty-two years for males and fifty-six years for females in 1989 contributed to a population that was predominantly young.

Settlement patterns were uneven as well. Around Lake Titicaca, the mild climate and favorable growing conditions resulted in high population densities. Settlement dropped off to the south, but communities existed wherever there was adequate water along the Desaguadero River. East of Lake PoopĆ³, settlements lay along the west-facing flank of the Cordillera Real on the alluvial fans of streams flowing from the mountains. There were also small settled valleys in the northern part of the Cordillera Occidental. In the south, the semiarid plateau supported only seminomadic shepherds.

The population of the valleys clustered in the crowded environs of Cochabamba, Sucre, and Tarija. In the Yungas to the north, the convoluted terrain limited exploitation of the fertile soils, and the population was concentrated in areas with relatively ready access to La Paz. Settlement increased in response to population pressure in the Altiplano and government support for colonization in the decades following land reform. Population growth followed access and feeder roads in the region and was concentrated at the middle elevations.

The lowlands' small population was scattered, except for the concentration near Santa Cruz. Significant colonization developed along the Santa Cruz-Cochabamba highway. Large commercial farms producing cotton, rice, or sugarcane occupied the areas accessible to Santa Cruz. Elsewhere, large ranches, small towns, and settlements clustered along riverbanks where roads had not penetrated. Small subsistence farms were scattered along the perimeter of larger holdings and represented the spearhead of penetration into the forest. Indian tribes inhabited the sparsely settled northern half of the lowlands.

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bolivia was first published in 1989. 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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Section 41 of 171


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