Over many centuries, Georgia gained a reputation for tolerance of minority religions and ethnic groups from elsewhere, but the postcommunist era was a time of sharp conflict among groups long considered part of the national fabric. Modern Georgia is populated by several ethnic groups, but by far the most numerous of them is the Georgians. In the early 1990s, the population was increasing slowly, and armed hostilities were causing large-scale emigration from certain regions. The ethnic background of some groups, such as the Abkhaz, was a matter of sharp dispute.
According to the Soviet Union's 1989 census, the total population of Georgia was 5.3 million. The estimated population in 1993 was 5.6 million. Between 1979 and 1989, the population grew by 8.5 percent, with growth rates of 16.7 percent among the urban population and 0.3 percent in rural areas. In 1993 the overall growth rate was 0.8 percent. About 55.8 percent of the population was classified as urban; Tbilisi, the capital and largest city, had more than 1.2 million inhabitants, or approximately 23 percent of the national total. The capital's population grew by 18.1 percent between 1979 and 1989, mainly because of migration from rural areas. Kutaisi, the second largest city, had a population of about 235,000.
In 1991 Georgia's birth rate was seventeen per 1,000 population, its death rate nine per 1,000. Life expectancy was seventy-five years for females and sixty-seven years for males. In 1990 the infant mortality rate was 196 per 10,000 live births. Average family size in 1989 was 4.1, with larger families predominantly located in rural areas. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Georgian population was aging slowly; the cohort under age nineteen shrank slightly and the cohort over sixty increased slightly as percentages of the entire population during that period. The Georgian and Abkhazian populations were the subjects of substantial international study by anthropologists and gerontologists because of the relatively high number of centenarians among them.
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