Cultural Profile

The estimates for 2002 put Nicaragua’s population at 5,023,818, and growing at a rate of 2.1 percent

The geography of the country has separated the east and west coasts of the country, with a mountainous region divided the two and creating two very distinct populations- the white and mestizo population dominating the west, and the Creole, mulatto, and Indian populations on the Caribbean coast.

Majority population of Nicaragua is urban, with 56 percent living in or near cities. The capital city of Managua accounts for more than one-forth of the total population, and is by far the largest and most important city in the country, the base of the government, industrial, and technological establishments.

All of the major cities are located on the west coast, mostly in the low coastal plain area west of the mountains and two large lakes.

Most Nicaraguan households are relatively large; six to eight under one roof is the norm, a number that is usually larger in rural areas. In both cases, three or even four generations living together is not uncommon, especially in the urban slums.

Despite the male-dominated “machista” culture, women play an essential and central part in the family, in many poorer families women are the sole breadwinners for the whole household.

The strength of women in Nicaragua can be seen in the influence they have in the country’s society and politics, most notably the election of Violeta Chamorro, the first female head of state elected in the Western Hemisphere.

Marxist-influenced Sandinista policy during the early 1980s focused on the “welfare of the poor majority,” as well as land reform, nutrition, health, and education. Literacy rates soared to the highest in history, but the ensuing civil war redirected resources away from social programs.

Today, the education programs continue to struggle, with literacy rates back down to around 74 percent, and only about 57 percent of primary school graduates attend secondary school.

Throughout the 1990’s, however, university enrollments have risen, as new private universities and technical institutes opened their doors, and national universities have improved, as the government recently allotted 6 percent of the national budget to the public universities.

“The nuclear family forms the basis of family structure, but relationships with extended family and godparents are strong.”

Extended family ties play a major role in determining status, political loyalties, jobs, and other opportunities, including entrances to private schools, bank loans, etc. The system known as compadrazgo, where godparents are chosen not just because of a relationship to the family, but because of economic and social status, as many poorer families seek to give their children a golden link to higher status and wealth in a strict class-dominated society.

Godparents are expected to keep close ties to the family, come to their aid in any time of hardship, and help out the child, if needed, in the future. Bloodlines and family trees are extremely important and well known and respected, especially in the small upper class.