With about 29 million inhabitants, Peru is the fourth most populous country in South America as of 2007. Its demographic growth rate declined from 2.6% to 1.6% between 1950 and 2000; population is expected to reach approximately 42 million in 2050. As of 2007, 75.9% lived in urban areas and 24.1% in rural areas. Major cities include Lima, home to over 8 million people, Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura, Iquitos, Cusco, Chimbote, and Huancayo, all of which reported more than 250,000 inhabitants in the 2007 census. In the Amazonian region, there are 16 ethno-linguistic families and more than 65 different ethnic groups. After Brazil and New Guinea, Peru has the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world.

Peru is a multiethnic country formed by the combination of different groups over five centuries. Amerindians inhabited Peruvian territory for several millennia before Spanish Conquest in the 16th century; their population decreased from an estimated 9 million in the 1520s to around 600,000 in 1620 mainly because of infectious diseases. The laws made to protect the indigenous people are not always respected by the Peruvian government or the companies, such as Perenco, Repsol YPF, and Petrobras, who seek to explore the natural resources of their land. In 1994, Peru signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous peoples, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. Spaniards and Africans arrived in large numbers under colonial rule, mixing widely with each other and with indigenous peoples. After independence, there has been a gradual European immigration from England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Chinese arrived in the 1850s as a replacement for slave workers and have since become a major influence in Peruvian society. Other immigrant groups include Arabs and Japanese. Given Peru’s high rate of ethnic intermixing, the country’s racial structure can be loosely classified as 31% – 45% Amerindian, 37% Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European), 15% European, and 3% African, Japanese, Chinese, and others.

Spanish, the first language of 83.9% of Peruvians aged five and older in 2007, is the primary language of the country. It coexists with several indigenous languages, the most important of which is Quechua, spoken by 13.2% of the population. Other native and foreign languages were spoken at that time by 2.7% and 0.1% of Peruvians, respectively. In the 2007 census, 81.3% of the population over 12 years old described themselves as Catholic, 12.5% as Evangelical, 3.3% as of other denominations, and 2.9% as non-religious.

Education and Health

Literacy was estimated at 92.9% in 2007; this rate is lower in rural areas (80.3%) than in urban areas (96.3%). Primary and secondary education are compulsory and free in public schools. Schools in rural areas are associated with less average knowledge of pupils. There is a correlation of malnutrition and low achievement at school. Income shows a positive correlation with education.

In health care, discrimination against indigenous peoples exists. Peru has one of the highest maternal death rates of the Americas. In the 1996-2006 period, infant mortality was at 21 per 1,000 births.

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