The 1982 census enumerated a population of slightly more than 3 million. Demographers suggested annual growth rates from 2.5 to 2.9 percent in the late 1980s. Thus, in mid-1988, estimates of total population ranged from 4 to 4.4 million. Assuming a yearly increase of between 2.5 and 2.9 percent until the end of the century, Paraguay would have a population of 5 to 6 million by the year 2000.
Modern censuses began under the direction of the General Office of Statistics following the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70). In 1886-87 the census enumerated nearly 330,000 Paraguayans. Beginning with the 1950 census, population counts have been conducted by the General Directorate of Statistics and Census. Censuses were taken in 1886-87, 1889, 1914, 1924, 1936, 1950, 1962, 1972, and 1982. Demographers distrust the 1889 data since the numbers do not follow the generally accepted population growth curve.
After moderate growth in the 1930s and 1940s, the annual intercensal growth rate climbed sharply in the 1950s and 1960s. Population was concentrated most densely in an arc surrounding Asunción east of the Río Paraguay. The Chaco was the least settled area; the region lost population in the 1970s at an annual rate nearly equal to the national rate of population increase during the same period--a trend that observers believed continued into the 1980s. Settlement along the country's eastern border increased significantly with improvements in transportation and the construction of hydroelectric projects in the region.
Since the 1950s, the ratio of males to females had increased steadily--an unexpected trend. As a population's general level of living, basic nutrition, and sanitation improve, the proportion of women to men typically tends to rise as degenerative diseases take a greater toll on the male population and women's longevity begins to have a discernible statistical impact. Observers suggested that a partial explanation of Paraguay's unusual pattern might be the decreasing effect of the male emigration that occurred during the decade following the civil war of 1947. The ratio of males to each 100 females was highest in rural areas (107) and lowest in cities (94), reflecting a greater tendency of women to migrate to urban areas.
The 1982 census also revealed a slightly aging population. In 1982 nearly 5 percent of Paraguayans were over sixty-five years old, in contrast to 4 percent for this age-group a decade earlier. Meanwhile, the percentage under age fifteen had dropped 3 percent, to 41.8 percent.
The average age at which Paraguayan women entered their first marriage or consensual union began to rise in the 1950s. By the late 1970s, women in Asunción averaged 19.7 years of age at their first marriage; those in other cities were about 8 months younger and those in rural areas were a year younger. The Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare cooperated in the family-planning efforts of a number of international agencies active in the country and managed several family- planning clinics in Asunción and other parts of the country. Between 1959 and 1978, the total fertility rate--an estimate of the average number of children a woman will bear during her reproductive years--declined by nearly one-third, to 4.97. Estimates put the rate at 4.6 in the mid-1980s, with 3.4 projected by the turn of the century.
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