Argentina, unlike most Latin American nations, has a population that is principally of European descent, especially of Italian and Spanish origin. The mestizo portion of Argentina's population is very small, except in the northwest, because there has been little mixture between European and indigenous peoples. The native population, which has steadily declined since the coming of the Europeans, is still strong only in parts of the Gran Chaco and the Andean highlands. Italian, Spanish (including Basque), French, German, British, Swiss, and East European immigrants came to Argentina during the 1880s; other large in-migrations of Europeans occurred in the 1930s and following World War II. There has also been some in-migration of Chileans, Bolivians, and Paraguayans.
The gaucho, or Argentine cowboy, the nomadic herder of the Pampas—depicted in Martín Fierro, the great Argentine folk epic by José Hernández—is still a legendary national symbol. Many gauchos were people of mixed Spanish and African descent who had crossed the border from Brazil to escape slavery. By the 1990s, however, Argentina had a predominantly urban population with about four fifths of its people living in cities and towns; more than a third of the total population lives in and around Buenos Aires.
About 90% of the population is at least nominally Roman Catholic. The Jewish population, while only accounting for about 2% of the people, is the largest in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world. Spanish is the country's official language, although English, Italian, German, and French are spoken as well. Argentina has one of South America's lowest population growth rates (under 1%).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.