Portugal Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Who all lives in Portugal? In this lesson, we will explore the distribution of ethnic groups in Portugal, and discuss historic reasons for these demographic statistics.

Ethnicity in Portugal

If you start in Spain and head west, where do you end up? No, it's not the Atlantic Ocean. On the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula is the nation of Portugal. It's a smaller country, and yet the former seat of one of the largest maritime empires in human history. So, who lives there? Well, obviously, the Portuguese do, but how about ethnic composition?

After a few centuries of fighting between various populations, the Portuguese government has actually forbidden the collection of statistics on ethnicity. They claim that asking people to identify by either race or religion encourages prejudice between groups. So, it's hard to tell exactly what their ethnic distribution is, but we don't really need exact numbers. That's because Portugal today has one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in Europe. So, let's take a look into Portugal and see what makes the Portuguese ... Portuguese.


Portuguese Ethnicity

Like I said, Portugal has an extremely consistent population in terms of ethnicity. The vast, vast majority of people in Portugal are identified as belonging to the Portuguese ethnic group. In fact, most sources place this number somewhere around 95 percent of the total population. While the great number of people identify as this same ethnicity, this group itself does contain strains of various ethnic groups that migrated into Portugal over the centuries. Celtic tribes contributed a lot to this ethnicity, as did Northern African/Arabic people who traveled into Portugal and even invaded during the 8th century.

The population of Portugal has historically been very homogeneous.

So, why is Portugal so greatly dominated by people of Portuguese ethnicity? Most European nations have at least a few substantial minority groups, but not Portugal. Well, if we look at Portugal on a map, you'll notice it's somewhat isolated. To get to Portugal, you either have to go through Spain, or you have to sail.

Until the 15th century, not many nations of Europe really sailed outside of the Mediterranean, except Portugal, which was one of the first great sailing nations of the continent. So, not many other ethnic groups have had a lot of opportunities to enter Portugal, and to this day the nation is one of the most homogeneous in the world.

Minority Groups

Realistically, all minority groups combined only compose a maximum of 5 percent of the total population, so no single ethnic group plays a major role in Portuguese society or politics. But, let's talk about these other ethnic groups who have established at least a small foothold in the nation.

One of the largest minority populations is African, largely composed of Cape Verdeans, or people from the Atlantic island chain of Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa. Cape Verde was one of Portugal's oldest colonies, and as Portugal decolonized in the 20th century, many residents from these islands resettled in Portugal itself. These Cape Verdeans, and other Africans from Portugal's former colonies, are the largest of the nation's minority ethnic groups.

Cape Verdeans compose a large part of the African ethnic group in Portugal.

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