Facts About Guatemala


• Guatemala has a population of 14,389,000 and is about the size of Tennessee.  It is arranged into 22 Departments.

• More than half of Guatemala’s population is indigenous and poverty unequally impacts this population (data.worldbank.org). 

“Despite being the largest economy in Central America, Guatemala has the lowest human development index (a composite measure of life expectancy, health and education outcomes) of any country in the sub-region.”  –CESR(Center of Economic and Social Rights)

• Nationally, between 56-64% of the population lives below the national poverty level or $2/day.  That rises to over 75% in rural areas.

• 21.5% live in extreme poverty, with less than $1/day  (World Health Org).   Rural dwellers account for 91% of those living in extreme poverty, where family incomes average $4/day.

• According to the UN, “80% of indigenous Guatemalans are living in poverty, compared to 40% of the non-indigenous.” (www.unhcr.org). And according to the World Bank, “Being indigenous increases an individual’s probability of being poor.  Indigenous people recover more slowly from economic crisis.”

• 50% of Guatemalans, mostly rural indigenous, live in inadequate housing (COHRE (Center on Housing Rights and Equality)).   Between a million and a million-and-a-half live in homes of cornstalks or scavenged materials.

• Replacing dirt floor with cement results in – according to the Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA) – 13% less diarrhea, a 20% reduction in anemia, scores 30% higher on language and communication skills for toddlers, and improvement of 9% on vocabulary. These improvements are due to fewer parasites in homes with cement floors.

• Public spending on education is only 2.6% of Guatemala’s GDP, the lowest in Latin America.  (Center for Economic and Social Rights)

• 9 of 10 rural schools have no books  (Cooperative for Education)

• The average Guatemalan child will stay in school for 3.5 years.   Rural kids fare even worse, with 1.8  years being average for girls.

• The literacy rate nationally is 70.6%, but nearer 25% in rural Guatemala

• 76% of indigenous children who enter 1st grade will not finish primary school

• 57% of children who die before age 5 are born to mothers with no education, verses 17% to mothers who have a secondary education or higher.   (CESR)


• Guatemala has the lowest tax collection in Central America, only 9% of its GDP

• About half of the labor force works in agriculture, principally coffee, sugar and banana cultivation.

• Less than 2% of Guatemalan farmers occupy 57% of the land.

• The wealthiest 1% of Guatemalans own or control 65% of the wealth.  The top 5% controls 85%.

• An agricultural worker earns on average $3 or $4 per day, when there is work available.

• 70% of indigenous children are of stunted growth due to malnutrition, double the rate for non-indigenous (CESR).

• Three times as many indigenous women die in childbirth than non-indigenous.  (CESR)

• An indigenous person in Guatemala will have a life expectancy of 13 fewer years than a non-indigenous.  (social.un.org/index/IndigenousPeoples/ThematicIssues/Health.aspx)

Coffee flowers.

Coffee flowers.