Guatemala’s Current Demographic Problem


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Guatemala is the largest country in Central America, and it has a population of around 18 million people. Guatemala is about the size of Bulgaria, and the state of Kentucky (US). Known for its mountainous surface, the country ,borders multiple nations such as Honduras, Belize, El Salvador and Mexico.

Guatemala has a very ethnically diverse population, which includes Amerindians, Mestizos, and people with European Descent. While it has Spanish as its official language, around 35% of Guatemalans are more familiar with Amerindian languages, such as Carib, Kekchi, Garifuna, Cakchiquel, and Xinca. Guatemala’s main ethnic groups are Ladinos (56% of the population; Spanish-speaking, light-skinned Guatemalans), and Ladinos (40%; mainly of Amerindian descent, tend to speak indegenous languages over Spanish), the latter is heavily affected by the staggering levels of inequality. Guatemala has struggled in the past decade to decrease the imbalance between the rural poor (who are mostly Mayan) and the urban rich (who are mostly Ladino).

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Guatemala’s economy is below the average of development in its region, and is considerably less-developed compared to other countries in the western hemisphere. It is mainly dependent on traditional crops such as coffee, sugar, and bananas. According to specialists, one of the main reasons why Guatemala continues to have a staggeringly slow economic growth is due to its 36-year long civil war (1960-1996), that was a major obstacle to foreign investment and sustainable development. While Guatemala has showed certain advancements in its current economic situation, its annual growth it’s roughly around 3%, and it’s predicted growth for 2020 is 2.8, 0.2 less compared to the previous year.

Human Development, Wellbeing and Healthcare

Guatemala has a life expectancy of 74.1, which is slightly higher than the international average (71.1) but lower than the regional average (Central America has an average life expectancy of around 78). According to, Guatemala has “among the worst health outcomes in Latin America with some of the highest infant mortality rates, and one of the lowest life expectancies at birth in the region.” While Guatemala’s Constitution says that every citizen has the right to health care, this specific right hasn’t been successfully guaranteed due to limited government resources and other problems regarding access to Health posts, especially in the Rural, Majoritarily Mayan communities.

  • The inequality among Mayan and Ladinos is also reflected in numbers:
  • Ladino women are twice as likely to utilize institutional delivery compared to Mayans.
  • 72% of Ladinos use contraceptives, that number is reduced to 49% among Mayans
  • The Birth Rate among Ladinos is 1.8, that number goes up to 5.7 among Mayans


Guatemala’s Demographic Problem

Having looked into all the factors and characteristics listed above, we now have enough context to talk about Guatemala’s main problem; its increasingly young population. Obviously, as we all know, there is more than one reason why Guatemala’s population is still so young. One of the main reasons, however, is it’s very high birth rate. Although it has steadily decreased in the past 30 years, Guatemala’s is still one of the highest in Latin America, and considerably higher than its Neighbors’: Mexico (2.18), and Honduras (2.46).

Demographic Transition Model

Guatemala is currently in stage 2 of the Demographic Transition Model, its birth-rate is far higher than its death-rate, and its annual population growth is around 1.86%. Guatemala shares multiple characteristics with other developing and under-developed countries around the world, that are mainly caused by the lack of a working health-care system that has deeply affected Guatemala’s growth potential in both Economic and Social aspects.

Population Pyramids

The pyramid shown above is from 1979, when Guatemala was going through a period of a stagnated economy caused by 36 year long brutal civil war that caused between 140,000 and 200,000 deaths. Back then Guatemala’s birthrate was much higher than it is today, which is the main cause of Guatemala’s population more than doubling in less than 40 years.

The next Pyramid is from last year, 2019. While it looks much more ‘controlled’ than 40 years ago, the % of children who are between 0-9 is almost 20 times higher than the % of adults who are between 70-80, and therefore, there is still an enormously disproportionate amount of children/teenagers.We also have to acknowledge the fact that in 1979 Guatemala was going through a violent and bloody civil war that killed more than 100,000. And although the numbers are undeniably not as disastrous, Guatemala still has one of the worst health-care systems in the world, and that still plays a huge role in its population issue.

The next pyramid (left) is from 30 years from now. It is the estimated population pyramid for Guatemala in 2050. And although it looks much more promising than the current population pyramid, it’s still comparable to Latin America’s current population pyramid (right), meaning that it would take 30 years for Guatemala to catch up to the regional average.


In order to decrease Guatemala’s Birth-rate, while still preserving its declining death-rate, it’s necessary to increase and facilitate Guatemalans’ access to quality Health-care. As listed above (see page 2, ‘Human development, Wellbeing and Healthcare’), Guatemala has disastrous numbers regarding contraceptives and conventional means of health-care, specially among its prominent Mayan population.

Mayans Need Better Access to Health-care

Mayans currently face many obstacles in order to get good Health-care coverage.

Although the cause of that problem is not that simple, is mostly boils down to two very relevant and eminent factors: lack of government funding and clashing cultural values. In 2008, for example, the Guatemalan government spent less than $100 per person on health care, which is almost ten times less money than what the US spends every year (per capita). And for that reason, it can be really hard to find a Public Health Posts, especially near multiple rural Mayan communities. According to, around 80% of all doctors in Guatemala work in its capital, Guatemala City. That number is incredibly disproportionate, especially when talking about a country where 53.8% of the population lives in rural areas, far from the big urban centers, where most of the doctors and health posts are.

And even in case you find a health-post in rural areas, it is likely that it will not provide you basic supplies such as vaccines and medications, in addition to the common lack of doctors who speak any other language other than Spanish – as listed in the ‘Geography and Demography’ section on page 1, around 35% of the Guatemalan population does not speak Spanish, and a vast majority of that percentage is composed by Mayans.

Which leads us to our second issue, which is that many Mayans believe that their culture and beliefs are not respected, so they prefer to reach out for less ortodox means of medicine, including traditional healers that provide plant-based medications and spiritual guidance.

How to Solve the Conflict Between Mayans and Guatemala’s Health-care System

The only way to solve the conflict between Mayans and Guatemala’s Health-care System would be an increase in public funding, constructions of more Public Health Posts near Mayan rural communities, and the recruitment of Doctors who are either of Mayan descent or simply understand / can communicate in indigenous languages. Although it might seem that it’s too small of a step, especially when looking at Guatemala’s disastrous performance in Health-care lists or rankings, the reduction of the inequality between Mayan and Ladinos is an important first step in order to strive toward a fairer, healthier society in which all people from ethnicities are able to get quality Health-care coverage funded by the government.

Are There any Current Examples That Prove That This Proposal Could Actually Work?

Yes, and interestingly enough, the best example we can use is Guatemala itself. Halfway through the Guatemalan Civil War, in 1985, the Guatemalan Government created Guatemala’s 8th constitution, which was the first constitution that cited the Universal right to Health-care for all its citizens.

And although we have already been through all the problems that

Guatemala still faces in regards to health-care, lack of public funding and governmental inefficiency, Guatemala’s demographic numbers are still much better than they were when the constitution was actually implemented in 1986. Life Expectancy at birth has increased from 60.176 to 73.81, and birth-rate has almost halved from 5.76 in 1986, to 2.97 in 2016.

Meaning that if the government provided more funding to Guatemala’s broken Health-care system, many health posts would be built around Mayan rural communities, the state would afford to hire non spanish-speaking doctors, and the Mayans’ access to health-care would increase exponentially, making the troubling numbers that we’ve been talking about throughout this report have drastic improvements compared to their current critical condition.


Guatemala’s current Demographic problem was caused by a succession of mistakes made by its government, which will only be solved by a bold, big structural change in Guatemala’s current health-care system. Not only that, the issue of racial inequality must also be addressed – not exclusively due to the immorality and unfairness of it, but also because it is of extreme importance in order to increase Guatemalans’ health, wellbeing, and self-esteem.

The proposal presented in this article are fully backed by a large amount of facts and data, collected by multiple independent organization. It is crucial for Guatemala to start implementing those changes as soon as possible, taking into account that a vast amount of its population is currently suffering because of the lack of such a fundamental right and necessity such as health-care. As soon as that problem is solved, it is guaranteed that numbers in all fields, such as Birth-rate, Death-rate, Child mortality, and life expectancy will also improve greatly.

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