Bolivia Population and Economy

By | December 10, 2021


The population is made up of 55% of Amerindians, 30% of Mestizos, 15% of Creoles and Europeans. The Amerindians live especially in the western departments, the Whites and the Mestizos in the eastern ones of the plateau. The Amerindians are represented on the plateau by Quechua (30%) and Aymará (25%), relatively cultured to the Creole model. On the eastern side of the Andes and in the forestry lowlands there are very small groups of Amazonian culture (Yuracare, Chimane, Mosetene, Tacana, Chacobo, Sirionó, Guarayu etc.); in the driest southern districts the Chiriguano and Chané and various groups carrying the characteristic predatory economy of the Chaco (Zamuco, Tsiracua etc.).

About 9/10 of the population is concentrated on the northern plateaus, more favorable to agriculture, and has developed particular physiological adaptations to the high ground conditions, which however expose it to the diseases typical of the lower and humid areas. This situation makes the use of agricultural-forestry and mineral resources in the Amazon basin and the redistribution of the demographic load that would derive from it problematic. The densities are very low everywhere, ranging from 18 to 26 residents per km 2 of the departments of La Paz and Cochabamba less than 1 / km in the eastern one of Pando; although small, these values ​​must however be compared with the poor profitability of the mountain and forestry economies. The pace of natural growth is still strong (1.9% in 2011), although it has declined in recent decades. The settlement has been diversifying: from mining centers (such as Potosí and Oruro) and rural villages to the development of administrative (especially La Paz) and commercial cities (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, second city by population thanks to its proximity to large fields petroleum, Cochabamba, Sucre), which have also accumulated industrial functions in recent times. The degree of urbanization is growing strongly (just under 67%).

Among the official languages, Spanish is spoken by 60% of the population, Quechua by 21% and Aymará by 14.6%. The almost exclusive religion is the Catholic.

Economic conditions

The Bolivian economy is among the poorest in the world, despite economic phases of expansion (after the Second World War thanks to the favorable trend of tin and oil; in the early 21st century due to the increase in the price of oil) and political economic tendencies tending to rationalize the primary sector – extending the cultivated area in the eastern plains and diversifying production – and to strengthen the weak industrial sector. The mining industry, progressively nationalized (tin, 1952; oil, 1969), benefited from the greatest investments and produced a substantial share of income, but it also accentuated the social differences to the advantage of the middle-upper classes of the urban bourgeoisie, while the large mass of Amerindian peasants are severely delayed in development. Since the 1980s, however, the international prices of tin and other metals have undergone significant fluctuations (for tin there was a real collapse), while oil extraction has decreased due to the obsolescence of plants and the depletion of active fields; the discovery of a large new silver deposit in Potosí (a centuries-old mining area) and of other gas deposits has only mitigated the severity of the crisis, which has been sought to shelter through monetary maneuvers and drastic austerity measures with very heavy repercussions on the less wealthy; almost two thirds of the population live below the poverty line and the set of development indicators places Bolivia at the bottom of the world ranking. International financial support is still very important; among the most seriously indebted countries in the world, Bolivia in 2005 obtained the cancellation of a large part of its foreign debt. The illegal export of coca, which would cover about one third of world demand, is fundamental, but for a quota that cannot be quantified. For Bolivia business, please check

The eastern part of the territory, more fertile, is little used due to the insufficient human presence; moreover, land ownership structures have long hindered the development of the primary sector. The agrarian reforms promoted since 1950 have aimed at an increase in production through a better distribution structure of the rural population, even on a small cultivated area (3%); however, agricultural workers have significantly decreased in recent decades (just 6.3% in 2003). On the plateau, cereals (corn, wheat, barley) and potatoes are grown up to 3600 m in height and beyond; also apple, pear, peach, cherry and plum trees grow up to 3000 m. In the ‘pioneer’ regions of the Amazon basin and in the valleys of the Eastern Cordillera there are plantations of sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, rice, cotton, soy and cocoa. But the most important crop is that of coca. Livestock breeding has been developed: in 2005 there were 6.8 million cattle, 8.5 million sheep, 1.5 goats and 3 pigs; also llamas and alpacas, the former used as draft animals, for meat, wool and skins, the latter for fine and precious wool.

Much greater importance has mining production, although the deposits are often found in regions of difficult access. Tin (17,000 t in 2005, but 68,100 t in 1976) fell to less than 10%, in value, of exports. Silver (465,000 kg) is obtained both directly and as a by-product of the refining of other metals. Lead, gold and above all zinc are of great importance (near Lake Titicaca). Since 1936 oil has been extracted (and refined) in the East, as well as natural gas, which is exported (to Brazil). Electricity production is expanding (1 million kW installed). In addition to metallurgical and petrochemical industries, industries are underdeveloped, while the tertiary sector is recording strong growth (two thirds of assets, over half of GDP).

The Bolivia has about 3700 km of railways, which go to a very great height (the Río Mulatos-Potosí-Sucre section rises to 4820 m asl). The eastern part has a good network of navigable waterways (about 18,000 km). The road network is still relatively undeveloped (61,000 km): in any case, the country is crossed, for a stretch over 2800 km, by the Pan-American Highway. The inadequacy of land and river communications is partly compensated by the recently upgraded civil aviation, which is headed by about thirty airports. The lack of direct access to the sea is compensated for by agreements with neighboring countries, which ensure Bolivia free zones in a fair number of river and sea ports.

The trade balance has strong fluctuations, above all due to the unpredictability of international commodity prices; mainly fabrics, machines, vehicles, foodstuffs, pharmaceutical products are imported. With the association with MERCOSUR, trade with neighboring countries has increased significantly.

Bolivia Population and Economy