Chile is a deeply conservative country: it was the first newly independent state in Latin America fully to embrace the Catholic church and has the most stable 'democratic' (or, until the 1950s, oligarchic) tradition in the region.

There is less racial diversity in Chile than in most Latin American countries. Over 90% of the population of 16 million is
(mixed race). There are hardly any people of African origin - in sharp contrast to, say, Brazil or Colombia - and there has been much less immigration from Europe than in Argentina and Brazil. The German, French, Italian and Swiss immigrants came mostly after 1846 as small farmers in the forest zone south of the Biobío. Between 1880 and 1900, gold-seeking Serbs and Croats settled in the far south and the British took up sheep farming and commerce in the same region.

There is disagreement over the number of indigenous people in Chile. Survival International estimate the
population to be one million, but other statistics - including the official ones - put it at much less. There are also 45,000-50,000
in the northern Chilean Andes and 4500
Rapa Nui
on Easter Island. A political party, the Party for Land and Identity, unites many indigenous groupings, and legislation is proposed to restore indigenous people's rights.

The population is far from evenly distributed: Middle Chile, from La Serena to Concepción, consisting of 20% of the country's area, is home to over 77% of the population, with the Metropolitan Region of Santiago containing, on its own, about 40% of the total. Population density in 2002 ranged from 393 per sq km in the Metropolitan Region to 0.84 per sq km in Región XI (Aisén). Since the 1960s, heavy migration from the countryside has led to rapid urbanisation. By 2002, 86.6% of the population lived in urban areas.

According to the most recent (2002) census the population is 70% Catholic and 15% Protestant. Membership of Evangelical Protestant churches has grown rapidly in recent years. There are also small Jewish communities in Santiago and Temuco especially.

Chilean literacy rates are higher than those of most other South American states; according to the 2002 census over 95% of the population above the age of 10 is literate. Census returns also indicated that, among the over-25s, 16% had completed higher education, 52% had completed secondary education and 41% had only completed primary education. Higher education provision doubled in the 1980s through the creation of private universities.

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