(March 2004) Despite its large petroleum reserves and mineral deposits, high levels of inequity and poverty plague Venezuela, where massive antigovernment street protests have become a symbol of deep social and political divisions.

With its striking physical contrasts — a 2,800-kilometer Caribbean coastline, bounded by rolling lowlands and rugged, snow-capped Andean peaks — Venezuela is a country of acute wealth inequalities, with only a small sector of the population benefiting from the country’s assets. The wealthiest 20 percent of the population receives more than half the country’s total income, while the poorest 20 percent receives a mere 3 percent of income, according to World Bank estimates. Reductions in global oil prices have seen a dwindling of the middle class and a sharp increase in poverty in this nation, a founding member of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries. The proportion of people living on less than $1 a day rose from some 12 percent in 1991 to close to 24 percent in 2000, according to the World Bank.

Frustrated with past social and political turbulence, such as that caused by the 1989 economic austerity program of former President Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuelans swept President Hugo Chavez into power in 1998. However, Chavez’s own presidency has been dogged by considerable turmoil, including a 2002 military coup that temporarily forced him from office and a 63-day general strike in 2003.

The continuing social and political turbulence within the population, which is among the world’s most urbanized, may be stymieing efforts to improve educational and other social measures. The quality of secondary education is a major concern, with high dropout rates and low enrollment. Though secondary school participation has improved since the 1980s, only 33 percent of secondary school-age males and 46 percent of females were enrolled between 1993 and 1997, according to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2002 Women of Our World data sheet. Secondary school participation was much higher in neighboring Guyana, where 76 percent of females and 71 percent of males were enrolled during the same period.

UN agencies cite some advances in health in Venezuela, where a child born today could expect to live to roughly 73 years, two years above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. By conducting intensive immunization campaigns, the country achieved 84 percent coverage among children under age 1 with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine in 2000, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

The country has also embarked on a broad-based response to HIV/AIDS, involving various government ministries, nongovernmental organizations, and other groups. UN agencies estimate the adult prevalence rate at 0.5 percent, but note that the HIV/AIDS surveillance system needs to be strengthened significantly.

Indicator Data
Population Mid-2003 25,700,000
Population 2025 (projected) 35,200,000
Population 2050 (projected) 41,700,000
Infant Mortality Rate (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) 19.6
Total Fertility Rate (avg. no. of children born to a woman during her lifetime) 2.8
Population Under Age 15 (%) 34
Population Over Age 65 (%) 4
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years) 73
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years) 71
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years) 77
Urban Population (%) 87
Population Ages 15-49 with HIV/AIDS at End of 2001 (%) 0.5
Government View of Birth Rate satisfactory
Births Attended by Skilled Personnel (%) 95
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births 43

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); and Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, Women of Our World 2002 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002). All these data can be found in PRB’s DataFinder.

Yvette Collymore is a senior editor at PRB.


Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2003).

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF, and WHO, “Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, 2002 Update, Venezuela” accessed online at www.who.int/emchiv/fact_sheets/pdfs/Venezuela_en.pdf, on Feb. 23, 2004.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “Country Profiles: Venezuela,” accessed online at www.paho.org/English/DD/AIS/cp_862.htm, on Feb. 23, 2004.

Justin Sass and Lori Ashford, 2002 Women of Our World (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2002).

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Country Programme for Venezuela,” accessed online at www.unfpa.org/exbrd/2002/final/dpfpaven1.doc, on Feb. 23, 2004.

World Bank, “Venezuela Country Brief,” accessed online at www.worldbank.org, on Feb. 23, 2004.