The government conducted national censuses in 1950, 1962, 1974, and 1982 and scheduled another for 1990. In the late 1980s, estimates of total population by 1990 ranged from 10.8 to 11 million. The annual growth rate was an estimated 2.3 to 2.8 percent. Population growth rates had been high since the onset of modern census-taking, with an increase of 3.2 percent annually in the 1960s and 3.0 percent in the 1970s. Demographers expected the rate to decline to approximately 2.4 percent by the end of the century. Their estimates of total population in 2000 ranged from 13.6 to 14.2 million with the lower figure more commonly accepted.
Despite the declining growth rate, a variety of indicators from the 1980s showed the country to be in the midst of a population explosion that was likely to continue beyond the year 2000. Between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s, the crude death rate fell by nearly 60 percent. The infant mortality rate, which dropped by nearly half to approximately 63 per 1,000 live births in 1985, accounted for most of the decline. The crude birth rate dropped from 47 to 37 per 1,000 population during the same time; given the relative youthfulness of the population, however, growth rates could be expected to remain high for decades. Only Bolivia had a higher population birth rate among South American countries. Life expectancy increased by more than 25 percent between the 1950s and the mid-1980s.
The total fertility rate (the number of children a woman could expect to bear during her life) dropped by an estimated one-third between 1950 and 1990. Socioeconomic background had a significant impact on the rate; the mean by region or ethnic group varied by as much as 3.5 children per woman. Estimates of the rate by the year 2000 ranged from 3.6 to 4.3 children per woman.
The high rate of population growth generated pressure on the country's limited resources. Even assuming only moderate growth to the end of the century, the primary and secondary schools' budget would have to rise to 70 percent over that of 1980 to keep pace with population. Moreover, more than 120,000 new jobs would be required each year to maintain employment levels of the early 1980s.
Increasingly aware of the high costs of continued population growth, the government in the 1970s accepted in principle the need for family planning and control of child spacing and attempted to incorporate demographic variables into national economic planning. Nonetheless, maternal and child health programs were often ineffective. A contraceptive practices survey in 1982 found that 65 percent of the women not using contraceptives nevertheless wanted to participate in some form of family planning and would have participated in family planning if a program were available. Given continued high birth rates, many demographers doubted government estimates that 40 percent of women of childbearing age were using contraceptives in the mid-1980s.
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