Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Ethnic groups in Latin America

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Ethnic groups in Latin America

The inhabitants of Latin America are from a variety of ancestries, ethnic groups and races, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. The specific composition of the group varies from country to country. Many have a predominance of European-Amerindian or Mestizo population; in others, Amerindians are a majority; some are dominated by inhabitants of European ancestry; and some countries' populations have large African or Mulatto populations.


Ethnic groups

  • Amerindians. The indigenous population of Latin America, the Native Americans, arrived during the Lithic stage. In post-Columbian times they experienced tremendous population decline, particularly in the early decades of colonization. They have since recovered in numbers, surpassing sixty million by some estimates. With the growth of other groups, they now compose a majority only in Bolivia. In Guatemala, Native Americans are a large minority who comprise two-fifths of the population. Mexico's 14% (9.8% in the official 2005 census) is the next largest population, and one of the largest Amerindian populations in the Americas in absolute numbers. Most of the remaining countries have Native American minorities, in every case making up less than one-tenth of the respective country's population. In many countries, people of mixed Native American and European ancestry make up the majority of the population (see Mestizo).
  • Asians. People of Asian descent number several million in Latin America. The first Asians to settle in the region were Filipino, as a result of Spain trading in Asia and the Americas. The majority of Asian Latin Americans are of Japanese or Chinese ancestry and reside mainly in Brazil and Peru; there is also a growing Chinese minority in Panama. Brazil is home to about two million people of Asian descent; this includes the largest ethnic Japanese community outside Japan itself (estimated as high as 1.5 million), and about 200,000 ethnic Chinese and 100,000 ethnic Koreans. Ethnic Koreans also number tens of thousands in Argentina and Mexico. Peru, with 1.47 million people of Asian descent, has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, with nearly one million Peruvians being of Chinese ancestry. There is a strong ethnic-Japanese presence in Peru, where a past president and a number of politicians are of Japanese descent. The Martiniquais population includes an African-White-Indian mixed population, and an East Indian (Asian Indian) population. The Guadeloupe an East Indian population is estimated at 14% of the population.
  • Blacks. Millions of African slaves were brought to Latin America from the 16th century onward, the majority of whom were sent to the Caribbean region and Brazil. Today, people identified as "Black" are most numerous in Brazil (more than 10 million) and in Haiti (more than 7 million). Among the Hispanic nations and Brazil leads this category in relative numbers with 7% of the population being Afro-Latin American. Significant populations are also found in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela Latin Americans of mixed Black and White ancestry, called Mulattoes, are far more numerous than Blacks.
  • Mestizos. Intermixing between Europeans and Native Americans began early in the colonial period and was extensive. The resulting people, known as Mestizos, make up the majority of the population in half of the countries of Latin America. Additionally, Mestizos compose large minorities in nearly all the other mainland countries.
  • Mulattoes. Mulattoes are people of mixed European and African ancestry. In Latin America, Mulattoes descend primarily from Spanish or Portuguese settlers on one side, and African on the other. Brazil is home to Latin America's largest mulatto population. Mulattoes are a population majority in the Dominican Republic and, depending on the source, Cuba as well. Mulattoes are also numerous in Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Smaller populations of mulattoes are found in other Latin American countries.
  • Whites. Beginning in the late 15th century, large numbers of Iberian colonists settled in what became Latin America. The Portuguese colonized Brazil primaily, and the Spaniards settled elsewhere in the region. At present, most white Latin Americans are of Spanish or Portuguese origin. Iberians brought the Spanish and Portuguese languages, the Catholic faith, and many Iberian-Latin traditions. Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico contain the largest numbers of whites in Latin America. Whites make up the majorities of Argentina, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Chile, Uruguay, and depending on the source in Cuba. Whites make up nearly half of Brazil's population. Ever since most of Latin America gained independence in the 1810s–1820s, millions of people have immigrated there. Of these immigrants, Italians formed the largest group, and next were Spaniards and Portuguese. Many others arrived, such as French, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Jews, Irish, and Welsh. Also included are Middle Easterners of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian descent; most of them are Christian. Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein) and, whether as White, Mestizo, or Mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry.
  • Zambos: Intermixing between Africans and Native Americans was especially prevalent in Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Brazil, often due to slaves's running away (becoming cimarrones: maroons) and being taken in by Amerindian villagers. In Spanish speaking nations, people of this mixed ancestry are known as Zambos in Middle America, and Cafuzos in Brazil.
  • In addition to the foregoing groups, Latin America also has millions of tri-racial peoples of African, Native American, and European ancestry. Most are found in Dominican Republic, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Peru with a much smaller presence in other countries.

    According to The World Factbook

    The following table shows the different racial groups and their percentages for all Latin American countries and territories, according to information provided by The World Factbook.

    1 May include one or more of the other groups (Mostly Asians).

    According to Lizcano

    The following table contains information based on work by National Autonomous University of Mexico professor Francisco Lizcano Fernández in 2014, a non genetic based estimate.

    LNote: "Creoles" refer to people of African descent who emigrated from British and French colonies in the Caribbean to Central America.

    According to Latinobarometro

    The following table shows how Latin Americans answer the question What race do you consider yourself belonging? in the Latinobarometro survey.

    According to other sources

    This is a list of ethnic groups based on national or other sources.


    Genetically, the composition of Argentina is mostly European in ancestry, with both Native American and African contributions. A 2009 autosomal DNA study found out the Argentine population 78.5 percent European, 17.3 percent Native American and 4.2 percent African.

    An unweighted autosomal study of blood donors from 2012 found out the following composition among samples in four regions of Argentina: 65% European, 31% Native American and 4% African. The study did not conclude to achieve a generalized autosomal average of the country; but rather, the existence of genetic heterogeneity among differing sample regions.


    Genetic studies have shown the Brazilian population as a whole to have European, African and Native American components.

    An autosomal study from 2013, with nearly 1300 samples from all of the Brazilian regions, found a pred. degree of European ancestry combined with African and Native American contributions, in varying degrees. 'Following an increasing North to South gradient, European ancestry was the most prevalent in all urban populations (with values up to 74%). The populations in the North consisted of a significant proportion of Native American ancestry that was about two times higher than the African contribution. Conversely, in the Northeast, Center-West and Southeast, African ancestry was the second most prevalent. At an intrapopulation level, all urban populations were highly admixed, and most of the variation in ancestry proportions was observed between individuals within each population rather than among population'.

    An autosomal DNA study (2011), with nearly 1000 samples from all over the country ("whites", "pardos" and "blacks", according to their respective proportions), found out a major European contribution, followed by a high African contribution and an important Native American component. "In all regions studied, the European ancestry was predominant, with proportions ranging from 60.6% in the Northeast to 77.7% in the South". The 2011 autosomal study samples came from blood donors (the lowest classes constitute the great majority of blood donors in Brazil), and also public health institutions personnel and health students. The study showed that Brazilians from different regions are more homogenous than previously thought by some based on the census alone. "Brazilian homogeneity is, therefore, a lot greater between Brazilian regions than within Brazilian regions".

    According to a DNA study from 2010, "a new portrayal of each ethnicity contribution to the DNA of Brazilians, obtained with samples from the five regions of the country, has indicated that, on average, European ancestors are responsible for nearly 80% of the genetic heritage of the population. The variation between the regions is small, with the possible exception of the South, where the European contribution reaches nearly 90%. The results, published by the scientific magazine American Journal of Human Biology by a team of the Catholic University of Brasília, show that, in Brazil, physical indicators such as skin colour, colour of the eyes and colour of the hair have little to do with the genetic ancestry of each person, which has been shown in previous studies (regardless of census classification). "Ancestry informative SNPs can be useful to estimate individual and population biogeographical ancestry. Brazilian population is characterized by a genetic background of three parental populations (European, African, and Brazilian Native Amerindians) with a wide degree and diverse patterns of admixture. In this work we analyzed the information content of 28 ancestry-informative SNPs into multiplexed panels using three parental population sources (African, Amerindian, and European) to infer the genetic admixture in an urban sample of the five Brazilian geopolitical regions. The SNPs assigned apart the parental populations from each other and thus can be applied for ancestry estimation in a three hybrid admixed population. Data was used to infer genetic ancestry in Brazilians with an admixture model. Pairwise estimates of F(st) among the five Brazilian geopolitical regions suggested little genetic differentiation only between the South and the remaining regions. Estimates of ancestry results are consistent with the heterogeneous genetic profile of Brazilian population, with a major contribution of European ancestry (0.771) followed by African (0.143) and Amerindian contributions (0.085). The described multiplexed SNP panels can be useful tool for bioanthropological studies but it can be mainly valuable to control for spurious results in genetic association studies in admixed populations". It is important to note that "the samples came from free of charge paternity test takers, thus as the researchers made it explicit: "the paternity tests were free of charge, the population samples involved people of variable socioeconomic strata, although likely to be leaning slightly towards the ‘‘pardo’’ group".

    An autosomal DNA study from 2009 found a similar profile "all the Brazilian samples (regions) lie more closely to the European group than to the African populations or to the Mestizos from Mexico".

    A 2015 autosomal genetic study, which also analysed data of 25 studies of 38 different Brazilian populations concluded that: European ancestry accounts for 62% of the heritage of the population, followed by the African (21%) and the Native American (17%). The European contribution is highest in Southern Brazil (77%), the African highest in Northeast Brazil (27%) and the Native American is the highest in Northern Brazil (32%).

    According to another autosomal DNA study from 2008, by the University of Brasília (UnB), European ancestry dominates in the whole of Brazil (in all regions), accounting for 65,90% of heritage of the population, followed by the African contribution (24,80%) and the Native American (9,3%).

    São Paulo state, the most populous state in Brazil, with about 40 million people, showed the following composition, according to an autosomal study from 2006: European genes account for 79% of the heritage of the people of São Paulo, 14% are of African origin, and 7% Native American. A more recent study, from 2013, found the following composition in São Paulo state: 61,9% European, 25,5% African and 11,6% Native American.


    According to a 1994 genetic research by Ricardo Cruz-Coke and Rodrigo Moreno in 1994, Chilean genetic admixture consists in a 64% European, 35% Amerindian, and 1% African ancestry. The European admixture goes from 81% in East Santiago to 61% in West Santiago. Valparaiso (Chilean central coast) and Concepción (central southern Chile) have 77% and 75% of European genetic admixture respectively.

    An autosomal DNA study from 2014, found out Chileans to be 44.34% (± 3.9%) Native American, 51.85% (± 5.44%) European and 3.81% (± 0.45%) African. The samples came from all the 15 regions of Chile, and they were collected in Arica, as the researchers made it clear: "Beginning 2011, 923 volunteers from all 15 regions of Chile, living temporarily or permanently in Arica, with an average age of 28,05+-9,37 and belonging to social classes A and B (4%), CA and CB (60%) and D (36%) were invited to participate on this study".

    A 2015 autosomal DNA study found out Chile to be 55.16% European, 42.38% Native American and 2.44% African (using LAMP-LD) and 43.22% Native American, 54.38% European and 2.40% African (using RFMix)

    Another 2015 autosomal DNA study carried out in two public hospitals found out Chile to be 57,20% European, 38,70% Native American and 2,5% African.

    Chilean mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome studies indicate that European ancestry predominates in the Chilean upper class; in the middle class the European component ranges from 72.3 to 76.8 percent, and the Amerindian population ranges from 23.2 to 27.7 percent. In the lower socioeconomic class, European ancestry is 62.9%–65 percent and Amerindian ancestry is 35–37.1 percent.


    In Colombia, an autosomal study found out the following composition: 60.0% European, 32.0% Native and 8.0% SSA African.

    According to a 2015 autosomal DNA study Colombia is: 62,50% European, 27,40% Native American and 9,2% African.

    Costa Rica

    While the majority of Costa Ricans identify as of criollo or castizo descent, genetic studies demonstrate considerable pre-Columbian Amerindian and a smaller African ancestry.

    According to an autosomal study, the genetic makeup of Costa Rica is 61 percent European, 30 percent Amerindian and nine percent African. Regional variation was observed, with greater European influence in the northern (66%) and central (65%) regions. Increased Amerindian ancestry was found in the south (38%), and a higher African contribution in coastal regions (13% in the Atlantic and 14% in the Pacific).

    The Central Valley—where more than half of Costa Ricans live—has a mestizo population with one of the highest European components in Latin America (comparable to Medellin, Colombia and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), areas with low pre-Columbian Native ancestry (then occupied by heterogeneous groups of hunter-gatherers) and where the current Native population is sparse. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Costa Rica was one of the more isolated regions in the Americas. According to genetic studies, the average Costa Rican from the Central Valley is 75 percent European, 20 percent Native and five percent African. By the late 20th century allusions in textbooks and political discourse to "whiteness" and Spain as the "mother country" of all Costa Ricans were diminishing, replaced with a recognition of the many peoples comprising the nation.


    An autosomal study from 2014 has found out the genetic ancestry in Cuba to be 72% European, 20% African and 8% Native American.

    Dominican Republic

    According to a recent autosomal study, the genetic composition of the Dominican Republic was 51.2 percent European, 41.8 percent African and 8 percent Native.


    According to a 2015 DNA autosomal study, the genetic composition of Ecuador is: 40.80% European, 50.10% Native American and 6.8% African.

    El Salvador

    A large majority of the population is declared mestizos, El Salvador is one of the most homogeneous countries in Latin America. According to a genetic research by the University of Brasilia, Salvadorian genetic admixture consists in a 45.2% Amerindian, 45.2% European, and 9.6% African ancestry.


    A study by Geographic Patterns of Genome Admixture in Latin American Mestizos. PLoS Genetics, found that the composition of Guatemala is 55% European, 44% Amerindian, and less than 1% African or Asian.


    An autosomal DNA study by the American Journal of Human Genetics estimated that the average admixture of Mexicans is approximately 52% European, 45% Amerindian, and 4% African. Higher Amerindian ancestry on the X chromosome was observed, consistent with predominantly European patrilineal and Native American matrilineal ancestry.

    Another autosomal study comparing the ethnic makeup of five different Latin American countries — Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico — found Mexico to be 50.1% Native American and 5.6% African, having the highest Native and the lowest African contribution of the sample.

    A study by Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN) reported that mestizo Mexicans are 58.96% European, 35.05% "Asian" (primarily Amerindian) and 5.03 percent African. Sonora has the highest European contribution (70.63 percent) and Guerrero the lowest (51.98 percent, with the highest Asian contribution: 37.17 percent). The African contribution ranges from 2.8 percent in Sonora to 11.13 percent in Veracruz. Eighty percent of the population was classified as mestizo (racially mixed to some degree). The study was conducted among volunteers from six states (Sonora, Zacatecas, Veracruz, Guanajuato, Oaxaca and Yucatan) and an indigenous group, the Zapotecs.

    The same study found that the Mexico's haplogroup was most similar to the European group with 81 percent of haplotypes shared, followed by the Asian haplogroup with 74 percent and the African haplogroup with 64 percent. The investigators noted that the African admixture did not generally come from African slaves brought by Europeans, but was part of the genetic admixture of the colonists. A study in Mexico City found that it's mestizo population had the greatest variation in Latin America, with its mestizos being either largely European or Amerindian rather than having a uniform admixture). The study's results are similar to those by INMEGEN on which the European admixture is 56.8 percent, followed by Asian (Native American) ancestry with 39.8 percent and an African contribution of 3.4 percent. Additional studies suggest a correlation between greater European admixture with a higher socioeconomic status, and greater Amerindian ancestry with a lower socioeconomic status. A study of low-income Mexicans found the mean admixture to br 0.590, 0.348 and 0.062 Amerindian, European and African respectively, while a study of Mexicans with an income higher than the mean found their European admixture to be 82 percent.


    According to a genetic research by the University of Brasilia, Peruvian genetic admixture consists in a 51.0% Amerindian, 37.1% European, and 11.9% African ancestry.

    According to a 2015 DNA autosomal study, the composition of Peru is: 47,30% Native American, 47% European and 3,2% African.


    A 2009 DNA study in the American Journal of Human Biology showed the genetic composition of Uruguay as primarily European, with Native American ancestry ranging from 1 to 10 percent and African from 7 to 15 percent (depending on region).


    Ethnic groups in Latin America Wikipedia