Population growth in Brazil, for a long time, was much less intense than in other large American countries better susceptible to agricultural exploitation. In the last decades of the 20th century, however, the increase was remarkable, considering that there were only 71 million Brazilians in 1960. The annual growth rate is still just over 1% (1999-2008)., for about 3/4 due to natural increase, with still relatively high birth rates (over 15%) despite a rapid recent reduction, and for the rest to immigration: however, both components have registered, since the mid-1960s, a noticeable contraction. In the meantime, socio-health conditions have improved, although socio-economic inequalities remain very strong: The reduction in infant mortality was progressive and rapid (to 27 ‰ in 2008, more than halved in a decade) while there was a strong parallel increase in life expectancy, very wide, however, between males (69 years in 2008) and females (77 years). The composition by age sees the youth classes prevail, and consequently the mortality rate is rather low (5.5 ‰).
According to Health-Beauty-Guides, the territorial distribution is profoundly uneven. It is estimated that at least 80% of the population is settled in a coastal strip just over 100 km deep: it is on the coast, moreover, that for centuries the population of Brazil has in fact been limited (and in particular to the coast to the South of Capo San Rocco), gathering in relatively small areas in correspondence with the best landings. Inland, and especially in forest regions, densities drop to values of 1-2 residents / km 2. The densification of the population along the coast does not seem destined to stop in the short term, given that the process of rapid urbanization of the population continues, moving from the countryside to the main cities, almost all coastal or close to the coast. The rapid urban growth characterized the entire second half of the 20th century, leading to the birth around the main cities of enormous precarious suburbs (favelas); the incidence of the urban population, which was estimated at 61% in 1975, reached 84% in 2004; the forecast that 90% can be reached in a few years seems entirely credible, even if it is clear that a political solution to some age-old problems (such as land concentration in the first place) could lead to a rapid decongestion of the areas subways.
The major cities remain São Paulo (with 19,226,426 residents in the entire urban agglomeration in 2007) and Rio de Janeiro (11,563,302 residents), but numerous others (Belo Horizonte, Pôrto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba) have now largely exceeded 3 million residents. in the respective agglomerations; also Brasilia, an interesting example of ‘founded’ capital, has reached a significant demographic threshold (almost 3,700,000 residents). The persistent growth of the coastal urban poles has led to the constitution of a coastal megalopolitan region which not only includes the two main agglomerations of Rio and San Paolo, but extends both N and S along the coast and also inland; in this territorial area, there are dozens of cities with several hundreds of thousands of residents. If São Paulo has not lost its role as the economic (and cultural) engine of the megalopolitan area and of the entire Brazil, the recent spread of both industry and the advanced service sector now affects a large number of smaller centers, megalopolitan formation, supported and connected by unparalleled communications and transport networks that are denser and better operating than anywhere else in Brazil. Even well outside this region, however, urban development has had a profound impact, albeit to a more limited extent: there is mention of the unexpected growth of Brasilia, whose foundation corresponded more to a project of political rebalancing and a national identity foundation than to an attempt at real settlement or production balancing, as they meant, aimed at enhancing the hinterland with respect to the coast. Other cities have also experienced similar increases in recent decades: in Norte, Manaus and Belém ; in the Northeast, Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife; in the Centro-Oeste, Goiânia. Undoubtedly, given the vastness of the Brazil, these are elements too distant and disconnected from each other to be able to structure a true urban network; but it seems reasonable to expect urban radiance effects also starting from these more isolated centers, with results of better balance in the management of the territory, also considering the great cultural and social liveliness, as well as economic, of many of the Brazilian cities.
From the point of view of the ethnic structure, the Brazilian population is largely white (about 54%) and mestizo (almost 40%), while the component of ancient African origin (descending from about 7 million slaves imported up to 1850) constitutes 6% and the Amerindian residues are less than 1%. The population of European origin has very varied origins, due to the long immigration phase, now almost exhausted: Portuguese origin obviously prevails, but there are very many communities of Italian origin (23-25 million), German, Spanish, Polish; non-European origins are also well represented: in particular, Arab presences are notable (especially from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt: Brazilians of Arab ancestry are about 15 million) and Japanese (2 million, the largest Japanese community abroad). Some components of migratory origin have a specific regional distribution: thus, the descendants of German immigrants are particularly dense in the Sul (State of Santa Catarina), those of African origin in the Northeast. Despite ethnic and cultural integration, the socio-economic pre-eminence of whites remains evident. The scant residues of the original population (about 700,000 units in 2005) are scattered throughout the Amazon and in the central-western region of the plateau.
The official language is Portuguese, with phonetic and morphosyntactic variants and lexical particularities, so that we tend to distinguish the Brazilian variety from the European Portuguese. The dominant religion is Catholic (Brazil is the largest national Catholic community in the world), with Protestant minorities (6%); a particularly conspicuous phenomenon is the spread of syncretic cults (candomblé, macumba, etc.), which have a large following especially among the urban population of the most disadvantaged classes.