According to the wikipedia page about Italian emigration (in Portuguese, but the table with immigrants to each country is very easy to read) the U.S. received 5.6 million Italians between 1870 and 1970, Argentina received 2.9 million and Brazil received 1.5 million.

From the same wikipedia page in English:

Italian Brazilians are the largest number of people with full or partial Italian ancestry outside of Italy, with São Paulo being the most populous city with Italian ancestry in the world. Nowadays, it's possible to find millions of descendants of Italians, from the southeastern state of Minas Gerais to the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, with the majority living in the São Paulo state[36] and the highest percentage in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo (60-75%). Small southern Brazilian towns, such as Nova Veneza, have as much as 95% of their population of Italian descent.

From the same wikipedia page in Italian, the number of descendants (also easy to read table):

Brasile = 27 200 000

Argentina = 19 700 000

Stati Uniti" = 17 250 000

The page about American Italians (in English) confirms 5.5 million Italian immigrants to the U.S.

  • 4
    Probably need to dig into the sources used for the information on the wiki. It is almost certainly not the same organization doing the counting in the US and Brazil so there are likely differences in the way people are counted. "Italian" is not a category used in any sort of census in the US, so it'd have to be based entirely on self-reported information and extrapolation.
    – user15620
    Jan 11, 2017 at 1:37
  • The Italian embassy in Brazil estimated in 2013 the number of descendants in 31 million. I still haven't seen how they calculated this value. Jan 11, 2017 at 19:38
  • Well, it seems that the point is not why Brazil has more descendants of Italians, but why does Wikipedia report such obviously false information ? May 8, 2020 at 18:12
  • @GorttheRobot - I don't know in the United States, but in Brazil nobody is doing the counting. "Italian" is not a category used in any sort of census in Brazil either. May 8, 2020 at 19:25

6 Answers 6


Pure speculation:

1) Possibly Italians immigrants in Argentina and the US tended to mostly marry other persons of Italian descent. So most second generation Italian immigrants would combine descent from two different Italian immigrants, most third generation would combine descent from four Italian immigrants, and so on.

possibly Italian immigrants to Brazil tended to marry Brazilians of other ethic origins. Thus second generation would be half Italian, third generation a quarter Italian. So Brazilians of Italian ancestry would be less Italian than Argentinians or Americans of Italian ancestry, but there would be more of them because different Italian families would not be combined into a single family by Italian-Italian marriages.

2) Possibly Brazilians of Italian ancestry have more children on the average than Argentinians or Americans of Italian ancestry.

If Argentinian or American families of Italian ancestry have an average of three children per generation, in two generations there will be nine grandchildren, in three generations twenty seven descendants, in four generations eighty one descendants.

If Brazilians of Italian ancestry have four children per generation, in two generations there will be sixteen grandchildren, in three generations sixty four descendants, in four generations 256 descendants or 3.16 times as many as if they had three children per generation.

3) Possibly Brazilians are more likely to be considered Italian with small amounts of Italian ancestry.

Maybe Argentinians and Americans have to have at least fifty percent Italian ancestry to be considered to have Italian descent, but Brazilians can be considered to have Italian ancestry if they have twenty five percent or even twelve point five percent Italian ancestry.

So here are three possible reasons for the difference between numbers of Italian immigrants vs present numbers of persons of Italian ancestry.

PS other possible factors are the relative times of the greatest Italian immigration to the different countries and the average age per generation of persons of Italian descent in different countries.

I hope they are of some help to you.

  • 1
    Interesting. I'm going to think more about this. What contradicts your answer is that Brazil is also the only of the three countries where Venetian Italian, or Talian is spoken. Since the language is still a bit preserved, this actually also means close group, so you would think less mixing with other groups, even to other European groups in Brazil such as the German, and Polish, also present in the south especially. Also most Italians were historically concentrated in south and southwest. The city of São Paulo having had entire neighbourhoods where they spoke Italian last century. Jan 11, 2017 at 0:31
  • 1
    @YuriBorges - note that Talian is spoken in Rio Grande do Sul, not in São Paulo. The dynamics of immigration were very different between these states. May 8, 2020 at 19:10

I am Brazilian of Italian descent (my father is the grandson of immigrants) and judging solely by looking at my father's family: he has 9 siblings, his father has 8 siblings and his mother 10 siblings.

Doing some research, and by the Brazilian history that is widely known here, Italians came to Brazil at the end of the 19th century to work in coffee plantations, mainly because in 1888 slavery was abolished in Brazil through the Lei Áurea, signed by Princess Isabel, daughter of Emperor Pedro II, after pressure from England. Thus, the coffee barons of the time had to find another way of staffing the gigantic coffee plantations that were common mainly in the state of São Paulo and northern Paraná.

Italians started to move to Brazil after propaganda promising land and other assorted riches reached Europe (as happened with other countries at the time) and, as they arrived, started working at said coffee plantations. The majority of immigrants were not pleased with the treatment they received here, which could be linked to a modern type of slavery — workers who live at the working site, earn remuneration in the form of rations and quarters to live in, every consumable (medicine, batteries, etc) results in a debt to the employer — so they started to work for themselves and, as Yuri Borges stated, Brazil had vast and unoccupied swathes of land, and they migrated to the center-west and the southernmost part of Brazil.

And, as my grandfather used to say when asked why he had so many children:

We didn't exactly have machines at the time, and didn't had TVs either, so, you know, that stuff happens and actually, was a win-win for the time.

So, workforce is the main reason why Italians had so many descendants in Brazil, based on the widely known history (for us) and my personal experience.

  • I am a Brazilian of Italian descent by my mother's lineage, and a colonial Brazilian by my father's lineage. My mother had just one sibling, but my father had three. So, what does this mean ? Simple - anecdotal evidence isn't sufficient to reach solid conclusions. May 8, 2020 at 19:11
  • "Thus, the coffee barons of the time had to find another way of staffing the gigantic coffee plantations" - Why didn't they staff their plantations with ex-slaves, paying them a wage ? May 8, 2020 at 20:33

Simply put, the number of 27 million "Italian Brazilians" (as Wikipedia mistakenly call those people) is a fantasy. There is no census information or reasonable calculation that reports such figure. Italian Embassy and consulates in Brazil do not research this issue, and the Brazilian census does not ask for "ancestry".

The only reliable research that I am acquainted with is a PME (Pesquisa Mensal de Emprego - Monthly Jobs Research - of July 1998, by the IBGE), and while it has its own problems (it was conducted in six metropolitan areas, not in the whole of the country), it clearly shows that the population of Italian descent in Brazil must be much lower than this fantastic figure.

The PME found about 10% of the population would have Italian ancestors (which is quite certainly very different of being "Italian Brazilian'), which, in 1998, would have meant some 18 million people - or about 21 million nowadays. But even such figure is certainly exaggerated, as the PME included two metropolitan areas, São Paulo and Porto Alegre, the former being the most populous metropolitan area in Brazil, which have certainly a much higher share of descendants of Italians than the rest of Brazil.

The figures of the July 1998 PME can be found in Simon Schwartzman"s Fora de foco: diversidade e identidades étnicas no Brasil and José Petrucelli's A COR DENOMINADA, both unfortunately in Portuguese.

Other than field research, there is an interesting paper by Judicael Clavelário, A participação da imigração na formação da população brasileira, that estimates the whole population of immigrant origin (including not only those of Italian, but also of Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Eastern European, Middle-Eastern, origin) to be between 12% and 24% of the Brazilian population (or between 24 and 48 million people as of today). Since Italians made up for about 1/3 of immigration to Brazil, this points to about 8-16 millions of Brazilians of Italian total or partial ancestry - far from 27 million).

  • Some sources you used are wrong, others are outdated. Brazil is really the country with more italian descendents in the world with nearly 30 million descendents, according to the data that appears in the latest (2019) [Rapporto Italiani nel Mondo] [1], carried out by the Fondazione Migrantes, pastoral office of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana, together with a committee formed by different entities and with the collaboration of scholars from different backgrounds coordinated by the Dossier Statistico Immigrazione Caritas/Migrantes. Jun 21, 2023 at 23:39
  • Here is the source with the complete research in italian: [1]: migrantes.it/wp-content/uploads/sites/50/2019/10/… Jun 21, 2023 at 23:40
  • I don't see how that source supports the claim of 27 million of "Italian Brazilians". It gives much smaller figures, for a very different period of time. Jun 23, 2023 at 0:30

I have a new theory and maybe people reading this can give me more input about the situation of Italians in the US.

I think Brazil and Argentina, especially Brazil due to its vast amounts of land, has given Italians more space for developing their communities. Nowadays a lot Italian Brazilians own a lot of land. My guess is that the Italians that went to the US ended up working in industries and afterwards staying in cities and never really owning farms. The fact that Italians going to Brazil went to work on coffee plantations mainly, also means the group stayed together and isolated in farms, which means Italians in Brazil preserved cultural - even their language - and genetic heritage longer than in other places. This also would explain why Argentina too has more Italians descendants than the US, while the US received many more Italians than Brazil and Argentina combined.

Mainland Brazil was probably much less occupied than the US when the immigration of the beginning of the last century occurred. This would explain why Italians ended up owning land and also other groups such as Germans, which also were able to preserve their language.

Obviously maybe the way of considering who is a descendant has a huge impact on the numbers. Anyways, for me to confirm the above mentioned theory, I need to be sure the Italian Americans indeed ended up never owning much land and staying in cities and therefore having had much less resources to multiply their communities.


Basically, Brazilian Italians intermarried more. For two reasons.

The first is social status. In the United States (of the late 19th and early 20th centuries), Italians were in the middle to bottom of "white" people. With the key exception of the Irish, they didn't intermarry much with northern Europeans (the majority of the U.S. population). In Brazil, Italians were as high socially as any ethnic group, and could intermarry with any group they chose to. In Argentina, their status vis-a-vis the Spanish was intermediate between their status compared to Portuguese Brazilians and northern European Americans.

The second (and ironic) reason is the fewer Italians (initially) emigrated to Brazil than to either the U.S. or Argentina, both in absolute numbers, and relative to the local population. If a group falls below a "critical mass" in numbers, it will more likely intermarry, than marry within its own group.

For instance, a referendum showed that there were twice as many Italian citizens living in Argentina than in Brazil. even though Brazil now has more people of (partial) Italian descent. That suggests a greater "purity" of the Italian heritage and lower rate of intermarriage in the former.

  • Indeed, since Brazil has less racism than USA and Argentina, more intermarriage is possible.
    – Santiago
    Jul 28, 2017 at 16:55
  • 1
    Well I'm not sure you are right. There are important nuances in this situation. As I said in my answer Italians went to Brazil to work in the coffee plantations of São Paulo mainly. I disagree that the Italian population didn't reach... Aug 2, 2017 at 11:42
  • ..critical mass. São Paulo had entire neighbourhoods of Italian-speaking immigrants. Furthermore the settlers that went to the South were very isolated in the villages they founded and in the farms they started. There are other aspects that I'll write more about later since I don't have time now. Aug 2, 2017 at 11:47
  • I'm not sure about the last point about "purity" of Italian heritage: Italy has a fairly broad citizenship law: as long as you descend directly from an Italian citizen (possibly through female ancestors as long as they lived after 1948) and no one in the chain explicitly renounced the citizenship or took actions incompatible with it, you are entitled to Italian citizenship. Apr 3, 2019 at 19:36
  • One problem with your theor is that it is incompatible with the "italianist" fantasy of 65% of São Paulo state people being of Italian descent. While a small group will intermarry more, it is unlikely that a small group can turn into a majority through intermarriage within six or seven generations. May 8, 2020 at 19:37

São Paulo has a very strong Italian influence. From the cuisine to the architecture. Italian-Brazilian people are very proud of their heritage and really did not mix with other ethnic groups other than Europeans like Portuguese, Spanish or German.

The Italians who arrived early in Brazil's history managed to uplift themselves from poverty by their second generation through hard work. Many of them began to own land and businesses, thereby becoming a very strong ethnic group in Brazilian society. As in America and in other parts of the world outside of Italy, wherever they have gone to restart a new life many have been successful contributing to society. Brazil is no different.

I have met many there in Brasil who consider São Paulo their home and visit Italy from time to time as they have dual citizenship.

  • 2
    Doesn't really answer why São Paulo was chosen for Italian migration.
    – Steve Bird
    Apr 3, 2019 at 7:32
  • @SteveBird From one of the other answers: "coffee plantations that were common mainly in the state of São Paulo". Apr 5, 2019 at 5:45

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