White brazilians

White Brazilian
Brasileiro branco
Murilo Endres
Total population
47.73% of the Brazilian population[1]
Regions with significant populations
   Entire country; highest percents found in southern and southeastern Brazil
small minorities speak Talian and assorted German dialects, mainly Riograndenser Hunsrückisch
Roman Catholicism 74.66% · Protestantism 15.16% · Non-religious 6.09% · Spiritism 1.87% · Other Christians Jehovah Witnesses, Brazilian Catholics, Mormonism, Orthodoxy 1.19%.[2]
Related ethnic groups
Other Brazilians, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Syrians, Lebanese, White Argentines, White Americans, White Latin Americans, Black Brazilians, Pardos

White Brazilians (Portuguese: brasileiros brancos [bɾɐziˈlejɾuz ˈbɾɐ̃kus]) are people in Brazil that have phenotypic characteristics that corresponds with the white race. According to the 2010 Census, they totaled 91,051,646 people, and made up 47.73% of the Brazilian population.[1]

Conception of White

Main article: Race in Brazil

Brazil, like most other countries, permits citizens to self-identify their racial category. The Brazilian social construct of "white race" is different from the concept of "white race" in other countries.[3] However, that is not to say that the social construct does not have a genetic foundation. A comprehensive study presented by the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research found that on average, white Brazilians are (>70%) European.[4] Another autosomal study carried out by the geneticist Sergio Pena showed that the overwhelming ancestry of "white" Brazilians is European, but there is Native American and African ancestries as well (an average of 80% European ancestry).[4][5]

According to another autosomal DNA study (from 2009) conducted on a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro the "whites" (who thought of themselves as "very mixed") were found to carry very little Amerindian or African admixtures (generally about 90% European in ancestry on average). "The results of the tests of genomic ancestry are quite different from the self-made estimates of European ancestry", say the researchers. In general, the test results showed that European ancestry is far more important than the students thought it would be. The "pardos" were found to have a European ancestry on average of 80% (autosomal ancestry)[6][7]

The degree of miscegenation in Brazil is very high; Brazil was originally colonised only by a few families of Portuguese settlers; instead there were many mostly Portuguese individual male adventurers, who tended to reproduce with Amerindian and African females.[8][9] The later settlers, however, would tend to reproduce with women who were the product of previous miscigenation in Brazil.

However, social prejudice connected to certain details in the physical appearance of individual is widespread. Those details are related to the concept of "cor". "Cor", Portuguese for "colour" denotes the Brazilian rough equivalent of the term "race" in English, but is based on a complex phenotypic evaluation that takes into account skin pigmentation, hair type, nose shape, and lip shape. This concept, unlike the English notion of "race", captures the continuous aspects of phenotypes. Thus, it seems there is no racial descent rule operational in Brazil; it is even possible for two siblings to belong to completely diverse "racial" categories.[10] Therefore, a White Brazilian is a person who "looks white" and is socially accepted as "white", regardless of ancestry.

Genes responsible for the features associated with "cor" are a smallish part of human genome. The miscegenation of people of different races in a country like Brazil can therefore result in a population with very different features, varying from those whose features are quite close to African to those whose features are much closer to European. This happens through the association of the processes of miscegenation and "assortative mating": suppose the first generation offspring of European fathers and African mothers. Their genome will be 50% European and 50% African, but the distribution of these genes between those that affect the relevant features (skin colour, hair type, lip shape, nose shape) is random.

Those whose features could be considered closer to the "white" prototype would tend then to procreate with other "whiter" 50-50 mixed individuals, while those whose features would be considered more evidently non-White would conversely tend to procreate among themselves[dubious ]. In the long term, this could produce a white and a black group with surprisingly similar proportions of European and African ancestry.[11]

Therefore, ancestry is quite irrelevant for racial classifications in Brazil. A genetic resource conducted by UFMG on self-identified white Brazilians found that 2.5% of them had African Y chromosomes. 33% had Amerindian mitochondrial DNA and 28% African mitochondrial DNA. That finding reflected centuries of miscegenation and assortative mating, in which successive waves of Portuguese male colonists mated with Brazilian women who were the product of miscegenation between their Brazilian mothers, who, in turn, ultimately descended from African or Amerindian females and the previous wave of Portuguese colonists.. A survey in Rio de Janeiro also concluded that "racial-purity" is not important for a person to be classified as white in Brazil. The survey asked respondents if they had any ancestors who were European, African or Amerindian. As much as 52% of those whites reported they have some non-European ancestry: 38% reported to have some Black African ancestry and 29% reported Amerindian ancestry (15% of them reported to have both). Only 48% of those whites did not report any nonwhite ancestry. Thus, in Brazil, one can self-identify as white and still have African or Amerindian ancestry, and such a person has no problem admitting to having nonwhite ancestors.[12]

Self-reported ancestry of whites from Rio de Janeiro (2000 survey)[12]
European only 48%
European and African 25%
European, African and Amerindian 15%
European and Amerindian 14%

The conception of white in Brazil is based on the skin color of a person, which contrasts with the conception of race and ancestry, as used in the United States. According to the 1991 census, 55% of the children whose mother was white and father was brown were classified as whites. Another 6% of children born to both brown parents were classified as whites, and 2% of children born to black parents were also identified as whites. That analysis shows that the ancestry of a person is quite insignificant to racially classify people in Brazil.[12]

Given this ambiguity and fluidity, there are people who claim that the few racial categories offered by the IBGE are not enough. When Brazilians answer to open-ended questions about race, up to 143 different race-color terms are brought. The most common is "moreno", a category that refers to a wide spectrum of phenotypes. It can mean "dark-haired", "tawny", "suntanned", but it is also used as a euphemism for "pardo" and "black", according to context.[13] It is not a synonym with "pardo", however, since each word refers to widely different sets of people.

An important factor about whiteness in Brazil is the racial stigma of being Amerindian or black, which is undesirable and avoided for a large part of the population. Scientific racism largely influenced race relations in Brazil since the late 19th century.[12] The predominant nonwhite, mostly Afro-Brazilian population was seen as a problem for Brazil in the eyes of the predominantly White elite of the country. In contrast to some countries, like the United States or South Africa, which tried to avoid miscegenation, even imposing anti-miscegenation laws, in Brazil, miscegenation was always legal. What was expected was that miscegenation would eventually turn all Brazilians into Whites.[12]

As a result of that desire of whitening its own population, the Brazilian ruling classes encouraged the arrival of massive European immigration to the country. In the 1890s 1.2 million European immigrants were added to the country's 5 million whites. Today the Brazilian areas with larger proportions of whites tend to have been destinations of massive European immigration between 1880 and 1930.[12]

Even though expectations of the Brazilian elite to whiten its own population through European immigration came to an end in the 1930s, the whitening ideology still influences racial relations in Brazil today. In general, the population still expects that blacks must biologically whiten themselves by marriage with lighter skinned people, or culturally through the assimilation of the traditions of the dominant white population.[12] That leads mixed-race people to be perceived as whites,[12] and this is more evident when a nonwhite person becomes wealthier and is incorporated in the ruling classes.

In the past, and still today, people of mixed-race ancestry who became wealthier were treated as whites, even though in some cases their African ancestry was remembered when opponents wanted to offend them, as happened with many mulatto politicians[dubious ].[12] That way, the light mulatto is often seen as white in Brazil, especially when the person becomes part of the elite.

For example, the greatest Brazilian writer, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, was a mulatto. However, once he gained fame and prestige, people started to accept him as a white man, and on his death certificate he was classified as a "white man".[14] Better educated and wealthier Brazilians usually see themselves as whites (a strict association between wealth and whiteness).[12] A study[12] showed that when mixed-race Brazilians get wealthier they start to be perceived as whites by others, who usually avoid associating a wealthy person with a non-white racial category. But only mixed-race people can "become white" when they get richer, while typically black people will always be perceived as blacks, no matter how rich they get.[12]

It showed that less educated black Brazilians avoid being associated as Black (usually choosing the word "Moreno": literally "tanned", "brunette", "with an olive complexion".[15] - to classify themselves). Better-educated black Brazilians, however, are more than eight times more likely as persons of a low level of education to identify themselves as blacks, while better educated mixed-race people usually jump to the white category.[12] Research published by the American Sociological Review found that the growth of the pardo population would be in part due to large numbers of blacks "whitening" themselves by reporting to be brown (mulatto). Studies have found a large trend in reclassification (whitening) from black to brown in the 1950 to 1980 period, a much smaller one from white to pardo, and a similar but less pronounced pattern between 1980 and 1990. Academics attribute this switch from black to pardo to high rates of black upward mobility during the 1970s, consistent with a “money whitens” hypothesis, that is blacks would whiten themselves by reporting as pardo the more wealthy they become. These results would demonstrate a tendency for what is called branqueamento, that means that blacks would tend to self-classify as whiter. In this case, differences found in the share of blacks between census results would demonstrate that blacks tend to self-classify as pardos. Some researchers suggested to merge the two into a single Afro-Brazilian category (e.g., Lovell 1994; Wood and Carvalho 1988; Wood and Lovell 1992).[16] Brazilian geneticist Sérgio Pena has criticised American scholar Edward Telles for lumping "pretos" and "pardos" in the same category. According to him, "the autosomal genetic analysis that we have performed in non-related individuals [...] shows that it does not make any sense to put "pretos" and "pardos" in the same category".[17]

The conception of white also varies from region to region. In the North and Northeastern regions, predominantly nonwhite, there may be some ambiguity on racial classifications, considering the long period of racial miscegenation in them. They contrast with the South, predominantly white, where the white population did not mix so much with the nonwhite one. A study[12] found that people from the predominantly non-White state of Bahia have some difficulty in discerning who is a White person. On the other hand, in the predominantly white state of São Paulo people more easily define who is a white person.[12]

The integration of races in Brazil did not build a racial democracy, where racism would not exist because all Brazilians saw themselves as equal because of their common multiracial heritage. Even though this theory was dominant in Brazil for decades, although it is still followed by some today, most scholars now think that miscegenation in Brazil created not an egalitarian society but a society where lighter-skinned people are found mostly on the top and the darker-skinned are mostly found on the bottom.[18]


Brazil received more European settlers during its colonial era than any other country in the Americas. Between 1500 and 1760, about 700,000 European settled in Brazil, compared to 530,000 European settlers in the United States.[19][20]

Practically all Europeans coming to Brazil before 1818 were Portuguese. Available data seems to point that most Portuguese settlers in Brazil came from northern Portugal, especially from Minho (in 1801, 45% of the Portuguese established in São Paulo were "minhotos", 20% from the Azores Islands, 16% from Lisbon and 19% from other parts[21]). Another significant portion came from the Portuguese Atlantic Island of Madeira.

An important feature of the Portuguese colonization was the overwhelming predominance of males. This disproportion was a problem during much of the colonial period. The Portuguese Crown even sent orphaned women for marriage with the settlers, but a large part of the settlers were involved in relationships with indigenous women and with their African slaves. It is remarkable that most Portuguese settlers arrived in Brazil in the 18th century: 600,000 in a period of only 60 years. The exploitation of gold and diamonds in the region of Minas Gerais has been a crucial factor in the arrival of this contingent of colonists.[19]

The New Christians

The "New Christians" was a term used to refer to Portuguese Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism, and their known baptized descendants. Portugal has always had a sizable Jewish community inhabiting its territory. There was a healthy degree of acceptance and tolerance towards Jewish religion, language and culture. However, after the inquisition set a foothold in Spain about 60.000 Jews fled to Portugal where King John II sold them a residency. Fifty years later, when the Inquisition moved to Portugal, all people of Jewish ancestry were forced to be baptized and became the New Christians. Many moved from Portugal and established themselves in Brazil. According to researcher Flávio Mendes de Carvalho in his book The Jewish Roots of Brazil, between 25% and 35% of the Brazilian population descends from these New Christians. Which is the equivalent of 66 million people.

Non-Portuguese presence in colonial Brazil

Before the 19th century, the French invaded twice, establishing brief and minor settlements (Rio de Janeiro, 1555–60; Maranhão, 1612–15);[22] In 1630, the Dutch made the most significant attempt to seize Brazil from Portuguese control. At the time, Portugal was in a dynastic union with Spain, and the Dutch hostility against Spain was transferred to Portugal. The Dutch were able to control most of the Brazilian Northeast - then the most dynamic part of Brazil - for about a quarter century, but were unable to change the ethnic makeup of the colonizing population, which remained overwhelmingly Portuguese by origin and culture.[23] Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin moved from Amsterdam to New Holland;[23] but in 1654, when the Portuguese regained control of Brazil, most of them were expelled, as well as most of the Dutch settlers.[24]

Aside these military attempts, a very small number of non-Portuguese people appear to have managed to enter Brazil from European countries other than Portugal.[25]

However, in the Southern Brazilian areas disputed between Portugal and Spain, Spanish colonists largely contributed for the ethnic formation of the local population, denominated Gaúchos. A genetic research conducted by FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo) on Gaúchos from Bagé and Alegrete, in Rio Grande do Sul, Southern Brazil, revealed that they are mostly descended from Spanish ancestors, and less from Portuguese, with 52% of them having Amerindian MtDNA (similar to that found in people who live in the area of the Amazon rainforest, and significantly higher than the national average - 33% - among Brazilian Whites) and 11% African MtDNA.[26] Another study also concluded that for the formation of the Gaúcho there was a predominance of Iberians, particularly Spaniards.[27] The genetic finding matches with the explanation of sociologist Darcy Ribeiro about the ethnic formation of the Brazilian Gaúchos: they are mostly the result of the miscegenation of Spanish and Portuguese males with Amerindian females.[28]

Another genetic study found possible relics of the 17th-century Dutch invasion in Northeastern Brazil.[29]


It was only in 1818 that the Portuguese rulers abandoned the principle of restricting settling in Brazil to Portuguese nationals. In that year over two thousand Swiss migrants from the Canton of Fribourg arrived to settle in an inhospitable area near Rio de Janeiro that would later be renamed Nova Friburgo.[30]

The arrival of German immigrants had great importance for the demographics of Southern Brazil. They founded rural communities that later became prosperous cities, as was the case of São Leopoldo, Joinville and Blumenau.[31]

The end of the slave trade (1850) and the abolition of slavery (1888) prompted the Brazilian State to promote European immigration to Brazil. The production of coffee, the main product of Brazil at the time, began to suffer a shortage of workers. From 1876, Italian immigrants began to enter Brazil in huge numbers. From 1884 to 1933, 1.4 million Italians immigrated to Brazil,[32] 70% of whom settled in São Paulo.

The period of the Great Immigration, between 1876 and 1930, brought to the country more than 5 million Europeans. Most were Italians or Portuguese, followed by Spaniards, Germans, Poles,[33] and Ukrainians. It is notable that most of these immigrants settled in Southern and Southeastern Brazil.

Brazilian Population, by Race, from 1872 to 1991 (Census Data)[34]
Ethnic group White Black Brown Yellow (Asian) Undeclared Total
1872 3,787,289 1,954,452 4,188,737 - - 9,930,478
1890 6,302,198 2,097,426 5,934,291 - - 14,333,915
1940 26,171,778 6,035,869 8,744,365 242,320 41,983 41,236,315
1950 32,027,661 5,692,657 13,786,742 329,082 108,255 51,944,397
1960 42,838,639 6,116,848 20,706,431 482,848 46,604 70,191,370
1980 64,540,467 7,046,906 46,233,531 672,251 517,897 119,011,052
1991 75,704,927 7,335,136 62,316,064 630,656 534,878 146,521,661

The impact of immigration

Brazilian demographers have long discussed the demographic impact of the wave of emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Judicael Clevelário,[35] most studies about the impact of immigration have followed Giorgio Mortara's conclusions in the 40's and 50's. Mortara[36] concluded that only about 19% of the demographic growth of Brazil, from 1840 and 1940 was due to immigration, and that the population of immigrant origin was of 16% of the total population of Brazil.[35]

However, according to Clevelário, Mortara failed to properly take into account the full endogenous growth of the population of immigrant origin,[37] due to the predominantly rural settlement of the immigrants (rural regions tend to have higher natality rates than cities). Clevelário, then, besides extending the calculations up to 1980, remade them, reaching somewhat different conclusions.

One of the problems of calculating the impact of immigration in Brazilian demography is that the return rates of immigrants are unknown. Clevelário, thence, supposed four different hypotheses concerning the return rates. The first, that he deems unrealistically high, is that 50% of the immigrants to Brazil returned to their countries of origin. The second is based on the work of Arthur Neiva, who supposes the return rate for Brazil was higher than that of USA (30%) but lower than that of Argentina (47%). The third hypothesis is taken from Mortara, who postulates a rate of 20% for the 19th century, 35% for the first two decades of the 20th century, and 25% for 1920 onwards. Although Mortara himself considered this hypothesis underestimated, Clevelário thinks it is the closest to reality. The last hypothesis, also admittedly unrealistic, is that of a 0% rate of return, which is known to be false.[38]

Clevelário's conclusions are as follows: considering hypothesis 1 (unrealistically high), the Population of Immigrant Origin in 1980 would be 14,730,710 people, or 12.38% of the total population. Considering hypothesis 2 (based on Neiva), it would be 17,609,052 people, or 14.60% of the total population. Considering hypothesis 3 (based on Mortara, and considered most realistic), it would be 22,088,829 people, or 18.56% of the total population. Considering hypothesis 4 (no return at all), the Population of Immigrant origin would be 29,348,423 people, or 24.66% of the total population[39]

Clevelário believes the most probable number to be close to 18%, higher than Mortara's previous estimate of 1947.[40]

According to the Census of 1872, Black and "Brown" people made up the majority (58%) of Brazil's population. The White population grew faster than the non-White population due to the subsidized immigration of Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As of 1890, the African-descended population was reduced to 47% and the Amerindian to 9%.[41] The disproportionally fast growth of the white population, due to mass immigration, lasted until 1940, when its proportion in the Brazilian population peaked at 63.5%.[41]

According to a genetic study, the European immigration to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries left a "strong imprint" in the genetics of the Brazilian population, leading to the "whitening" of Brazil. The massive European immigration promoted by the Brazilian government after 1872 that brought nearly 6 million Europeans in order to "whiten" the country's population had an important effect, and it manifests in a predominance (over 70%) of European ancestry in White Brazilian, as well as a large European admixture (37.1%) in Black Brazilians. The scholars divided the formation of the Brazilian population into three periods: the first when the country was inhabited only by Amerindians, who contributed for the early formation of the population; the second was during the large influx of slaves from Africa until 1850 and the third was during the large influx of European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[42] In fact, until the mid-19th century, white people never exceeded 30% of the population in Brazil, while Amerindians, Blacks and Mulattoes always predominated.[43]

Another study has pointed out that the European ancestry is dominant throughout Brazil at 80%, which means that even in the states not hit by the most recent waves of immigration, European ancestry dominates in the population as a whole. "A new portrayal of each ethnicity contribution to the DNA of Brazilians, obtained with samples from the five regions of the country, has indicated that, on average, European ancestors are responsible for nearly 80% of the genetic heritage of the population. The variation between the regions is small, with the possible exception of the South, where the European contribution reaches nearly 90%. The results, published by the scientific magazine 'American Journal of Human Biology' by a team of the Catholic University of Brasília, show that, in Brazil, physical indicators such as skin colour, colour of the eyes and colour of the hair have little to do with the genetic ancestry of each person, which has been shown in previous studies".[44]


White Brazilians are descended either from colonial settlers, who came from Portugal from 1500 to 1822, or from the diverse groups of immigrants who arrived after independence. The latter had a greater impact in the demography of the Southern states and of São Paulo.

Different from the colonists who settled in North America, who brought their entire families, the Portuguese colonization was almost exclusively composed of men, with a limited presence of women. This lack of women worried the Jesuits, who asked the Portuguese King to send any kind of Portuguese women to Brazil, even the socially undesirable (e.g. prostitutes) if necessary. Most of the first Portuguese settlers procreated with native Amerindians or African slave women. Over time, the number of Portuguese women immigrating to Brazil grew, but the gender imbalance was never significantly reduced. This male predominance prevailed throughout the colonial period. Historically, the male Portuguese settler preferred to marry a Portuguese born female. But, since their number in Brazil was very small, the second option was to marry a white Brazilian, born to Portuguese parents. The third option was a white Brazilian female of distant Portuguese origin. The scarce presence of white women, either Portuguese or Brazilian, caused the high degree of miscegenation in colonial Brazil (and recent genetic studies found a high degree of Amerindian and African ancestries in white Brazilians, that confirms this early integration).

Even though the immigration of non-Portuguese was allowed from 1818 on, the Portuguese predominance continued way up to the 1870 years. A consistent flux of German immigrants started to arrive to Southern Brazil, briefly interrupted by the Ragamuffin War, but the amount of Portuguese immigrants was much bigger during this period.

The census of 1872 counted 3,787,289 whites in Brazil. Despite the largest arrivals of European immigrants, particularly between 1880 and 1930, the nowadays white Brazilian population is still mainly descended from whites of colonial extraction.[45]

Latin American oligarchies, which remained predominantly of European origin, believed - in syntony with the racialist theories then widespread in Europe - that the large numbers of blacks and mixed Amerindians that made up the majority of the population were a handicap to the development of their countries. As a result, countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil started to encourage the arrival of European immigrants, in order to make the white population grow and to dilute the African and Amerindian blood in their population. Argentina even has an article in its Constitution prohibiting any attempt to prevent the entry of European immigrants in the country.[46] In the case of Brazil, the immigrants started arriving in huge numbers during the 1880s. From 1886 to 1900, almost 1.4 million Europeans arrived, of whom over 900,000 were Italians. During this period of 14 years, Brazil received more Europeans than during the over 300 years of colonization.

According to Darcy Ribeiro before 1850 no more than 500,000 Europeans settled in Brazil[47] IBGE estimated that the number was close to 700,000 Portuguese.[48] The mass European immigration to Brazil only started in the second half of the 19th century, from 1850 to 1970 some 5 million Europeans arrived, because of three main reasons:

  • to "whiten" Brazil, since the Amerindian and African elements predominated in the population, a fact that was considered a problem by the local elite, that considered these races inferior. Bringing European immigrants was seen as a way to "improve" the racial composition of the local population;
  • to populate inhospitable areas of Brazil, mostly the Southern provinces;
  • to replace African manpower, since the Atlantic slave trade was effectively suppressed in 1850 and coffee plantations were spreading in the region of São Paulo.

These immigrants had a larger and more visible impact in the state of São Paulo, along with the three southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná. In the southern states there were entire regions (such as the Serra Gaúcha and Vale do Jacuí) populated by German and Italian-speaking inhabitants. The immigrants remained closed in ethnic communities for decades. The Portuguese language only started to be used by these communities many decades after their arrival, as a result of their contact with Brazilians and with immigrants from other countries, but also because of the forced assimilation during the Getúlio Vargas's government, mostly inside the German community. In contrast to the early Portuguese colonists, these immigrants arrived with their entire families in Brazil, with large numbers of women and children. As a result, the areas where they were concentrated, most remarkably the central parts of Southern Brazil, became predominantly white.

In São Paulo, paulistas of Italian descent outnumbered those of earlier extraction. In this region, Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards and Arabs were easily integrated, since they had a close contact with the large local Brazilian population. At first working on coffee farms, later they moved to cities and participated in the process of industrialization of Brazil.

Regions of settlement

The first economic activity the Portuguese crown devised in Brazil—the collection of Brazilwood—was not conducive to an actual occupation of the territory. The establishment of a few "feitorias" that conducted the trade was not enough to populate Brazil. The growing competition from other colonial powers—especially France—led the Portuguese into finding other economic activities that could serve as a base for a permanent and solid integration of Brazil into Portuguese domains. The first such activity to attain success was the cultivation of sugarcane—and the associated extraction of sugar, since sugarcane could not be transported overseas without deteriorating. This activity was also complementary with the slave trade that the Portuguese were starting, at that moment, from their African colonies of Angola and Mozambique. Sugarcane proved very well adapted to the climate of the Northeastern litoral, so the first stable and prosperous Portuguese settlements—and consequently, the first stable and prosperous centers of White population in Brazil—where located in that region.

The economy of sugarcane culture being centered in exporting to Portugal, other economic activities appeared to fulfill the necessities of the region. Remarkably, husbandry spread into the arid hinterland, where it remained the most important economic activity for centuries.

The region around São Vicente, in modern São Paulo state, remained less developed, with a weaker integration to the colonial economy. This probably prompted the inhabitants to explore the hinterland. In theory looking for gold and gems, in practice they engaged in expeditions with the objective of capturing and enslaving Amerindians. These slaves were used in the incipient agriculture around São Paulo, which, to the end of the 16th century became specialised in wheat, as a commercial crop that could be sold in other parts of Brazil.[49]

Around 1700, the paulistas found gold in the region that is now Minas Gerais. Together with the growing competition of Caribbean sugar, this made the center of the Brazilian economy move to the Southwest. The administrative center of the colony was moved from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro. The discovery of mineral wealth caused the influx of Portuguese settlers to redirect from the Northeast to the mining region, and the number of Portuguese leaving for Brazil to increase greatly; also there was a change in the social profile of those coming to Brazil. Agriculture needed substantial investments, but gold mining required much more courage and less initial capital, and the proportion of poor Portuguese among the newcomers increased considerably.

The Southern region was also first settled by the paulistas. Arriving there in search of the Amerindians in the Jesuit reductions, they subsequently raided the region in search of the cattle gone astray with the destruction of the Missões, first for the leather, then organising a commercial circuit that moved cattle on feet to the mining region (ciclo do gado a pé). As a result, the Portuguese domain extended firmly to the south, threatening the control of the Northern bank of the Plata by the Spanish.


Most of the European immigrants settled in São Paulo, and other Southeastern states: São Paulo received most of the Italians and Spaniards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries;[citation needed] Rio de Janeiro received most of the Portuguese immigrants;[citation needed] and Minas Gerais reiceived generally Italians, looking for jobs in the 19th century, and Portugueses early in the 18th.[citation needed]Pernambuco was also an important place to the arrival of Portuguese immigrants.

However, the impact of the European immigration was larger in Southern Brazil, because even though it got a lesser migration, since it had a very small population, the immigration’s impact was greater to its demography when compared to other Brazilian regions.


Main article: Portuguese Brazilian

After independence in 1822, about 1.79 million Portuguese immigrants arrived in Brazil, most of them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[50] Most of these immigrants settled in Rio de Janeiro.


Main article: Italian Brazilian

About 1.64 million Italians arrived in Brazil, starting in 1875.[51] First they settled as small land owners in rural communities across Southern Brazil. In the late 19th century, the Brazilian State offered land to immigrants, in conditions that made it possible to buy them.[52] Later, their destination were mostly the coffee plantations in the Southeast, especially São Paulo and Minas Gerais, where they worked for the local landowners, either for a wage or under a contract that allowed them to use a portion of land for subsistency, in exchange for labour in the plantation.[53]

Italians made up the main group of immigrants to Brazil in the late 19th century.[54]


About 720,000 Spaniards came to Brazil, starting in the late 19th century.[50] Most of them were attracted to work in the coffee plantations in the State of São Paulo.


Main article: German-Brazilian

About 260,000 Germans settled in Brazil.[55] They were the fourth largest nationality to immigrate to Brazil, after the Portuguese (1.8 million), the Italians (1.6 million), the Spaniards (0.72 million); Germans were followed by the Japanese (248,000), the Poles and the Russians.[55]

The vast majority settled in states of São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Rio de Janeiro. Less than 5% of Germans settled in Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, and Espírito Santo.[56]

The most influenced state by the German immigration was Santa Catarina, where Germans and Austrians were about 50% of all foreigners (Germans, 40%; Austrians, 10%), it was the only state where Germans were the principal nationality among foreigners. Other states with some significant proportion were Rio Grande do Sul (Germans, slightly over 10%) and Paraná (Germans, 10%; Austrians, 10%).[57]


Main article: Polish Brazilian

Poles came in significant numbers to Brazil after 1870. Most of them settled in the State of Paraná, working as small farmers. From 1872 to 1919, 110,243 "Russian" citizens entered Brazil. In fact, the vast majority of them were Poles ("Russian" Catholics), since, up to 1917, a part of Poland was under Russian rule due to the Partitions of Poland and ethnic Poles immigrated with Russian passports.[58]


Main article: Luxembourg Brazilian

An estimated 50,000 Brazilians are of Luxembourgian descent due to a massive immigration of Luxembourgers to Brazil, mostly during the late 19th an early 20th centuries.


Main article: Ukrainians of Brazil

More than 20,000 Ukrainians came to Brazil between 1895 and 1897, settling mostly in state of Paraná and working as small farmers.[59]


Main article: Latvian Brazilian


Main article: Arab Brazilian

Besides the Europeans, many White Brazilians descend from Arabs, mostly Syrians and Lebanese people. About 100,000 Arabs, mainly Syrians and Lebanese, came to Brazil between 1884 and 1939.[60]


Brazilian Jews are concentrated in four cities: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, and Porto Alegre.[61]

Scandinavian countries

The relations between Brazil and Sweden are rooted in the family ties of the Brazilian and the Swedish Royal Families and in the Swedish emigration to Brazil in the end of the 19th century. The wife of King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway, Queen Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, was sister to Amélie of Leuchtenberg, wife of Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. Diplomatic relations between Brazil and Sweden were established in 1826. During the mid to late 19th century many Scandinavians arrived in Brazil, particularly to the southern states as well as Rio de Janeiro, which features a Scandinavian Association,[62] and São Paulo, where the Scandinavian church is based.[63]

Dutch (Netherlands)

Main article: Dutch Brazilian

Dutch people first settled in Brazil during the 17th century, with the state of Pernambuco being a colony of the Dutch Republic from 1630 to 1661. During the 19th and 20th century, immigrants from the Netherlands populated the central and southern states of Brazil.[64][65]

Americans (United States)

At the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, a migration of Confederates to Brazil began, with the total number of immigrants estimated in the thousands. They settled primarily in Southern and Southeastern Brazil: in Americana, Campinas, São Paulo, Santa Bárbara d'Oeste, Juquiá, New Texas, Xiririca, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Doce. But in Santarém, Pará—in the north on the Amazon River—and in the states of Bahia and Pernambuco received a significant number of American immigrants. Altogether, close to 25,000 American immigrants settled in Brazil.


By Brazilian states

The Brazilian states with the highest percentages of Whites are the three located in the South of the country: Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná. These states, along with São Paulo, received an important influx of European immigrants in the period of the Great Immigration (1876–1914).

The Brazilian states with the lowest percentages of Whites are located in the North, where there is a strong Amerindian influence to the population's racial composition, and in part of the Northeast, notably in Bahia and Maranhão, where African influence is stronger.[67]

Source: IBGE 2000 [68]
Federative Units White Population 1940(%)[69] White Population 2009(%)[70]
Santa Catarina 94,4% 85,7%
Rio Grande do Sul 88,7% 81,4%
Paraná 86,6% 71,3%
São Paulo 84,9% 65,8%
Goiás 72,1% 40,1%
Rio de Janeiro (city) 71,1%* (in the then Federal District*) 55,0%* (in Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro*)
Espírito Santo 61,5% 44,2%
Minas Gerais 61,2% 47,2%
Rio de Janeiro (state) 59,8% 55,8%
Alagoas 56,7% 26,8%
Pernambuco 54,4% 36,6%
Acre 54,3% 26,9%
Paraíba 53,8% 36,4%
Ceará 52,6% 31,0%
Mato Grosso 50,8% 38,9%
Maranhão 46,8% 23,9%
Sergipe 46,7% 28,8%
Piauí 45,2% 24,1%
Pará 44,6% 21,9%
Rio Grande do Norte 43,5% 36,3%
Amazonas 31,2% 20,9%
Bahia 28,7% 23,0%
  • Doesn´t include the states created after 1940.

By cities and towns

In a list of the 144 Brazilian towns with the highest percentages of White people, all the cities were located in two states: Rio Grande do Sul or Santa Catarina. All these towns are settled predominantly by Brazilians of German and Italian descent and are very small. It is important to note that, in the late 19th century, many German and Italian immigrants created small communities across Southern Brazil. These communities were settled, in many cases, exclusivily by European immigrants and their descendants.[71] The Brazilian towns with the largest percentages of Whites are:[72]

  • 1) Montauri (Rio Grande do Sul): 100% White (1,615 inhabitants)
  • 2) Leoberto Leal (Santa Catarina): 99.82% (3,348 inhabitants)
  • 3) Pedras Grandes (Santa Catarina): 99.81% (4,849 inhabitants)
  • 4) Capitão (Rio Grande do Sul): 99.77% (2,751 inhabitants)
  • 5) Santa Tereza (Rio Grande do Sul): 99.69% (1,604 inhabitants)
  • 6) Cunhataí (Santa Catarina): 99.67% (1,740 inhabitants)
  • 7) São Martinho (Santa Catarina): 99.64% (3,221 inhabitants)
  • 8) Guabiju (Rio Grande do Sul): 99.62% (1,775 inhabitants)

The Brazilian towns with the lowest percentages of Whites are located in Northern and Northeastern Brazil, and are also small.

Genetic research

The genes can reveal from what part of the world the oldest ancestors of the paternal and maternal line of a person came from. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is present in all human beings and passed down through the maternal line, i.e. the mother of a mother of a mother etc. The Y chromosome is present only in males and passed down through the paternal line, i.e., the father of a father of a father etc. The mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome suffer only minor mutations through centuries, thus can be used to establish the paternal line in males (because only males have the Y chromosome) and the maternal line in both males and females.

According to a genetic study about Brazilians (based upon about 200 samples), on the paternal side, 98% of the White Brazilian Y Chromosome comes from a European male ancestor, only 2% from an African ancestor and there is a complete absence of Amerindian contributions. On the maternal side, 39% have European Mitochondrial DNA, 33% Amerindian and 28% African female ancestry. This, considering the facts that the slave trade was effectively suppressed in 1850, and that the Amerindian population had been reduced to small numbers even earlier, shows that at least 61% of White Brazilians had at least one ancestor living in Brazil before the beginning of the Great Immigration. This analysis, however, only shows a small fraction of a person's ancestry (the Y Chromosome comes from a single male ancestor and the mtDNA from a single female ancestor, while the contributions of the many other ancestors is not specified).[73]

According to another genetic research (based upon about 200 samples again) over 75% of caucasians from North, Northeast and Southeast Brazil would have over 10% Sub-Saharan African genes, and that this would also be the case with Southern Brazil for 49% of the caucasian population. According to this study, in all United States 11% of Caucasians have over 10% African genes. Thus, 86% of Brazilians would have at least 10% of genes that came from Africa. The researchers however were cautious about its conclusions: "Obviously these estimates were made by extrapolation of experimental results with relatively small samples and, therefore, their confidence limits are very ample". A new autosomal study from 2011, also led by Sérgio Pena, but with nearly 1000 samples this time, from all over the country, shows that in most Brazilian regions most Brazilians "whites" are less than 10% African in ancestry, and it also shows that the "pardos" are predominantly European in ancestry, the European ancestry being therefore the main component in the Brazilian population, in spite of a very high degree of African ancestry and significant Native American contribution.[74] Other autosomal studies (see some of them below) show a European predominance in the Brazilian population. Some researchers have found that the average European American type has approximately 30% to 32% non-White genetic material.[75]

Another genetic research suggested that the White Brazilian population is not genetically homogenous, as its genomic ancestry varies in different regions. Samples of White males from Rio Grande do Sul have showed significant differences between Whites of different localities of state. In a sample from the town of Veranópolis, heavily settled by people of Italian descent, the results from the maternal and paternal sides showed almost complete European ancestry. On the other hand, a sample of Whites from several other regions of Rio Grande do Sul showed significant fractions of Native American (36%) and African (16%) mtDNA haplogroups.[76]

Another study (based on blood polymorphisms, from 1981) carried out in one thousand individuals from Porto Alegre city, Southern Brazil, and 760 from Natal city, Northeastern Brazil, found whites of Porto Alegre had 8% of African alleles and in Natal the ancestry of the samples total was characterized as 58% White, 25% Black, and 17% Amerindian". This study found that persons identified as White or Pardo in Natal have similar ancestries, a dominant European ancestry, while persons identified as White in Porto Alegre have an overwhelming majority of European ancestry.[77]

According to an autosomal DNA genetic study from 2011, both "whites" and "pardos" from Fortaleza have a predominantly degree of European ancestry (>70%), with minor but important African and Native American contributions. "Whites" and "pardos" from Belém and Ilhéus also were found to be pred. European in ancestry, with minor Native American and African contributions.[74]

Genomic ancestry of individuals in Porto Alegre Sérgio Pena et al. 2011 .[74]
colour amerindian African European
white 9.3% 5.3% 85.5%
pardo 11.4% 44.4% 44.2%
black 11% 45.9% 43.1%
total 9.6% 12.7% 77.7%
Genomic ancestry of individuals in Fortaleza Sérgio Pena et al. 2011 .[74]
colour amerindian African European
white 10.9% 13.3% 75.8%
pardo 12.8% 14.4% 72.8%
black N.S. N.S. N.S
Genomic ancestry of non-related individuals in Rio de Janeiro Sérgio Pena et al. 2009 [17]
Cor Number of individuals Amerindian African European
White 107 6.7% 6.9% 86.4%
"parda" 119 8.3% 23.6% 68.1%
"preta" 109 7.3% 50.9% 41.8%

According to another study, autosomal DNA study (see table), those who identified as Whites in Rio de Janeiro turned out to have 86.4% - and self identified pardos 68.1% - European ancestry on average. Blacks were found out to have on average 41.8% European ancestry.[17]

According to another study (from 1965, and based on blood groups and electrophoretic markers) carried out on whites of Northeastern Brazilian origin living in São Paulo the ancestries would be 70% European, 18% African and 12% Amerindian admixture.[78]

Another study (autosomal DNA study, from 2010) found out that European ancestry predominates in the Brazilian population as a whole ("whites", "pardos" and "blacks" altogether). European ancestry is dominant throughout Brazil at nearly 80%, except for the Southern part of Brazil, where the European heritage reaches 90%. "A new portrayal of each ethnicity contribution to the DNA of Brazilians, obtained with samples from the five regions of the country, has indicated that, on average, European ancestors are responsible for nearly 80% of the genetic heritage of the population. The variation between the regions is small, with the possible exception of the South, where the European contribution reaches nearly 90%. The results, published by the scientific magazine 'American Journal of Human Biology' by a team of the Catholic University of Brasília, show that, in Brazil, physical indicators such as skin colour, colour of the eyes and colour of the hair have little to do with the genetic ancestry of each person, which has been shown in previous studies"(regardless of census classification).[79] "Ancestry informative SNPs can be useful to estimate individual and population biogeographical ancestry. Brazilian population is characterized by a genetic background of three parental populations (European, African, and Brazilian Native Amerindians) with a wide degree and diverse patterns of admixture. In this work we analyzed the information content of 28 ancestry-informative SNPs into multiplexed panels using three parental population sources (African, Amerindian, and European) to infer the genetic admixture in an urban sample of the five Brazilian geopolitical regions. The SNPs assigned apart the parental populations from each other and thus can be applied for ancestry estimation in a three hybrid admixed population. Data was used to infer genetic ancestry in Brazilians with an admixture model. Pairwise estimates of F(st) among the five Brazilian geopolitical regions suggested little genetic differentiation only between the South and the remaining regions. Estimates of ancestry results are consistent with the heterogeneous genetic profile of Brazilian population, with a major contribution of European ancestry (0.771) followed by African (0.143) and Amerindian contributions (0.085). The described multiplexed SNP panels can be useful tool for bioanthropological studies but it can be mainly valuable to control for spurious results in genetic association studies in admixed populations." [80] It is important to note that "the samples came from free of charge paternity test takers, thus as the researchers made it explicit: "the paternity tests were free of charge, the population samples involved people of variable socioeconomic strata, although likely to be leaning slightly towards the ‘‘pardo’’ group".[81] According to it the total European, African and Native American contributions to the Brazilian population are:

Region[81] European African Native American
North Region 71,10% 18,20% 10,70%
Northeast Region 77,40% 13,60% 8,90%
Central-West Region 65,90% 18,70% 11,80%
Southeast Region 79,90% 14,10% 6,10%
South Region 87,70% 7,70% 5,20%

In support of the dominant European heritage of Brazil, according to another autosomal DNA study (from 2009) conducted on a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro the "pardos" there were found to be on average over 80% European, and the "whites" (who thought of themselves as "very mixed") were found out to carry very little Amerindian or African admixtures. "The results of the tests of genomic ancestry are quite different from the self made estimates of European ancestry", say the researchers. In general, the test results showed that European ancestry is far more important than the students thought it would be. The "pardos" for example thought of themselves as 1/3 European, 1/3 African and 1/3 Amerindian before the tests, and yet their ancestry was determined to be at over 80% European. The "blacks" (pretos) of the periphery of Rio de Janeiro, according to this study, thought of themselves as predominantly African before the study and yet they turned out predominantly European (at 52%), the African contribution at 41% and the Native American 7%.[6][7]

According to another autosomal DNA study from 2009, the Brazilian population, in all regions of the country, was also found out to be predominantly European: "all the Brazilian samples (regions) lie more closely to the European group than to the African populations or to the Mestizos from Mexico".[82] According to it the total European, African and Native American contributions to the Brazilian population are:

Region[83] European African Native American
North Region 60,6% 21,3% 18,1%
Northeast Region 66,7% 23,3% 10,0%
Central-West Region 66,3% 21,7% 12,0%
Southeast Region 60,7% 32,0% 7,3%
South Region 81,5% 9,3% 9,2%

According to another autosomal study from 2008, by the University of Brasília (UnB), European ancestry dominates in the whole of Brazil (in all regions), accounting for 65,90% of heritage of the population, followed by the African contribution (24,80%) and the Native American (9,3%).[84]

An autosomal study from 2011 (with nearly almost 1000 samples from all over the country, "whites", "pardos" and "blacks" included) has also concluded that European ancestry is the predominant ancestry in Brazil, accounting for nearly 70% of the ancestry of the population: "In all regions studied, the European ancestry was predominant, with proportions ranging from 60.6% in the Northeast to 77.7% in the South".[74] The 2011 autosomal study samples came from blood donors (the lowest classes constitute the great majority of blood donors in Brazil [85]), and also public health institutions personnel and health students. In all Brazilian regions European, African and Amerindian genetic markers are found in the local populations, even though the proportion of each varies from region to region and from individual to individual.[86][87] However most regions showed basically the same structure, a greater European contribution to the population, followed by African and Native American contributions: “Some people had the vision Brazil was a heterogeneous mosaic [...] Our study proves Brazil is a lot more integrated than some expected".[88] Brazilian homogeneity is, therefore, greater within regions than between them:

Region[7] European African Native American
Northern Brazil 68,80% 10,50% 18,50%
Northeast of Brazil 60,10% 29,30% 8,90%
Southeast Brazil 74,20% 17,30% 7,30%
Southern Brazil 79,50% 10,30% 9,40%

According to an autosomal DNA study (from 2003) focused on the composition of the Brazilian population as a whole, "European contribution [...] is highest in the South (81% to 82%), and lowest in the North (68% to 71%). The African component is lowest in the South (11%), while the highest values are found in the Southeast (18%-20%). Extreme values for the Amerindian fraction were found in the South and Southeast (7%-8%) and North (17%-18%)". The researchers were cautious with the results as their samples came from paternity test takers which may have skewed the results partly.[89][90]

São Paulo state, the most populous state in Brazil, with about 40 million people, showed the following composition, according to an autosomal study from 2006: European genes account for 79% of the heritage of the people of São Paulo, 14% are of African origin, and 7% Native American.[91]

Several other older studies have suggested that European ancestry is the main component in all Brazilian regions. A study from 1965, Methods of Analysis of a Hybrid Population (Human Biology, vol 37, number 1), led by the geneticists D. F. Roberts e R. W. Hiorns, found out the average the Northeastern Brazilian to be predominantly European in ancestry (65%), with minor but important African and Native American contributions (25% and 9%).[92] A study from 2002 quoted previous and older studies (28. Salzano F M. Interciêência. 1997;22:221––227. 29. Santos S E B, Guerreiro J F. Braz J Genet. 1995;18:311––315. 30. Dornelles C L, Callegari-Jacques S M, Robinson W M, Weimer T A, Franco M H L P, Hickmann A C, Geiger C J, Salzamo F M. Genet Mol Biol. 1999;22:151––161. 31. Krieger H, Morton N E, Mi M P, Azevedo E, Freire-Maia A, Yasuda N. Ann Hum Genet. 1965;29:113––125. [PubMed]), saying that: "Salzano (28, a study from 1997) calculated for the Northeastern population as a whole, 51% European, 36% African, and 13% Amerindian ancestries whereas in the north, Santos and Guerreiro (29, a study from 1995) obtained 47% European, 12% African, and 41% Amerindian descent, and in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, Dornelles et al. (30, a study from 1999) calculated 82% European, 7% African, and 11% Amerindian ancestries. Krieger et al. (31, a study from 1965) studied a population of Brazilian northeastern origin living in São Paulo with blood groups and electrophoretic markers and showed that whites presented 18% of African and 12% of Amerindian genetic contribution and that blacks presented 28% of European and 5% of Amerindian genetic contribution (31). Of course, all of these Amerindian admixture estimates are subject to the caveat mentioned in the previous paragraph. At any rate, compared with these previous studies, our estimates showed higher levels of bidirectional admixture between Africans and non-Africans."[93]

See also


  • RIBEIRO, Darcy. O Povo Brasileiro. Ed. Companhia de Bolso.

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