The most ancient residents were groups of hunters from pampide extraction and others of gatherers and farmers typical of the Amazonian environment. When the whites began to settle in Uruguay in the century. XVI, the population was made up of Indian tribes mainly belonging to the ciarrua (charrua), a people of warriors and hunters of the prairies and therefore of a pampid environment; along the course of Uruguay groups of Guaraní had also settled, probably recently of Amazonian extraction. The Ciarruas fiercely opposed the white colonization, but were gradually pushed inwards by the advance of the whites: their number progressively decreased so much that it was completely canceled shortly after 1830. A certain contribution to the formation of the population was also given by the black element, consisting of the descendants of negros ladinos, slaves from Brazil and not directly from Africa, introduced until 1842, when slavery was abolished. Blacks and above all mestizos had a certain numerical consistency in the past, reaching even 20% of the total population in the second half of the century. XVIII; at the beginning of the year 2000, the mestizos are around 3% and the mulattos at 2%, while the blacks are a minor group. The fundamental role in the formation of the current Uruguayan population was instead played by European immigration: whites make up 94% of the country’s residents. The first nuclei of diffusion were some farms along the northern bank of the Río de la Plata, thanks to which cattle breeding was introduced in the country: this since beginning represented the basis of the economic development of Uruguay, conditioning its ways of life and customs, given the lack of mineral resources and plantation activities.
In 1778 the population of Uruguay, excluding Indians, amounted to approx. 20,000 residents (of which over one fifth to Montevideo, a city that always had a priority role in the life of the country), rose to approx. 75,000 at the time of the conquest of independence and 132,000 at the 1852 census. But it was the prosperity due to the fortunes of the breeding – which, among other things, gave a great impetus to the creation of plants for the preparation of meat extracts by the Liebig Company, active in Uruguay since 1864 – to attract, starting from the second half of the last century, a very large number of immigrants (in fifty years the population increased by 7 times, reaching 900,000 residents in 1900), mainly from European countries, especially Latin ones: the appeal exerted by the vast program of reforms promoted by the government in the administration and social sphere, which placed Uruguay at the forefront of South American countries, should not be overlooked. Between 1900 and 1930 there was an average entry of 15,000 immigrants every year: one million residents in 1908 it rose to 2 million in 1930. The repercussions of the world economic crisis of 1929 imposed restrictions on immigration, which were also re-adopted after the Second World War; the population is today (2008) of ca. 3, 3 million residents. The average annual growth coefficient is modest (0.3% in the period 2000-2005), significantly lower than fifty years ago, when the average was still 1.5%, both due to the reduced immigration and the low birth rate. Then, starting from the 1950s, there was a reversal of the trend with respect to migration, when numerous Uruguayans began to leave the country. A trend that continued in the following decades, in correspondence with the political crisis of the 1970s and the periods of economic recession, not least that which occurred in 2002-2003; the phenomenon mainly concerns young people with a higher education qualification, who leave the country to mostly reach the United States, or Spain, Argentina, Venezuela and Italy. Uruguayans living in abroad are approx. 500,000 and these figures suggest that Uruguay may soon have negative growth rates.
The loss of younger generations due to emigration together with low birth rates and one of the highest life expectancies on the continent also make Uruguay the oldest country in Latin America: 17.6% of the residents have more 60 years old. As a consequence of the events of the population, the composition of the Uruguayan population is very heterogeneous: many have retained their nationality; the largest ethnic groups are those of Italy (it is estimated that about 40% of the population has Italian origins) and Spanish, followed by those of Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, etc. Unlike the European ones, mainly based in the capital, Brazilian and Argentine immigrants preferably gravitate around the border areas with their respective countries of origin. According to itypetravel, most of the population is urban (93.8%) and the average density (19 residents / km²) is slightly lower than the central values of South America. However, these measures do not in any way reflect the real distribution of the population, which for more than two thirds is concentrated in the capital and generally spread above all in the southern section of the country, along the Río de la Plata. The capital has been the seat since the years of the great immigration of a middle class represented by traders, employees, bureaucrats, quite evolved but scarcely productive, expression of an abnormal urbanism in the context of a small country; Montevideo hosts all the main cultural activities, economic and financial areas of Uruguay and is a very active port. Together with the capital district there is a high concentration of housing in the department immediately adjacent, Canelones and the coastal ones of Colonia, San José and Maldonado. The other Uruguayan cities have much lower roles: the main ones are Salto and Paysandú, river ports on Uruguay, Rivera and Melo, in the belt close to the Brazilian border. There are numerous seaside resorts on the Atlantic coast, such as the elegant Punta del Este. In the interior there are only towns with commercial functions, to which the estancias belong, the most characteristic settlement element of Uruguay, with the residence of the estanciero in the center and around, at a certain distance, the fences for the collection of livestock, the warehouses for wool and the homes of the employees.