Uruguay Social Condition Facts

Social conditions

The standard of living in Uruguay is higher than in many other Latin American countries and the percentage of poor people is low. The country has long had a well-developed welfare system.

Already in the early 1900s, the foundation of a welfare state was laid in Uruguay, which is unique in South America. The country has an extensive social insurance system and a well-functioning healthcare system. The insurance covers, among other things, sickness, unemployment, maternity and occupational injuries.

Strengthening of the social security system during the left-wing government that took office in 2005 has also reduced the proportion of Uruguayans living outside the formal economy (see Labor Market). This is because it increasingly pays to be covered by the systems.

uruguay population

Welfare deterioration, on the other hand, occurred during the military dictatorship of 1973–1985 and during the economic crisis of the turn of the millennium (see Economic overview). Nearly 40 percent of the residents were affected by poverty after a few years of crisis. An average household had lost 30 percent of its income compared to five years earlier.

The combination of high growth and the government’s poverty reduction program relatively quickly dampened the effects of the crisis on residents. The proportion that is considered poor has fallen, from 32 to 8 percent between 2006 and 2018. In principle, extreme poverty has disappeared completely during the same period, from 2.5 to 0.1 percent. According to the World Bank, Uruguay has the relatively largest middle class in Latin America: more than 60 percent of residents are counted there.

Not least during the reign of President José Mujica (2010–2015), Uruguay received attention as a socially liberal forerunner. In 2008, Uruguay introduced as the first country in Latin America a law that allowed same-sex couples to register partnerships, and in 2013, the country became the second in the region to approve same-sex marriage (after Argentina). The year before, the country also became the second in Latin America to introduce free abortion, even the twelfth week of pregnancy.

As the first country in the world, Uruguay also passed legislation in 2013 to completely legalize the cultivation, consumption and sale of marijuana (or cannabis, called the plant itself), even without medical reasons. The law is to be handled by the state and only Uruguayan citizens or permanent residents have the right to grow or buy marijuana. At first, cultivation and consumption became legal, but since 2017 there are also a number of pharmacies that are licensed to sell marijuana.

Although Uruguay is more equal than other countries in the region, both women and blacks are discriminated against in Uruguayan society. Women generally have jobs that are significantly lower paid than men’s. The same applies to blacks who are also unemployed to a greater extent than other groups.

Violence against women is a major problem. This is especially true in homes, even though threats of violence can lead to imprisonment. The proportion of women in Congress was 13-14 percent after the 2009 election, but according to a law passed the same year, at least one third of the candidates on the parties’ electoral lists must be women from 2014. As a result, the proportion of women rose to 20 percent in the House of Representatives and 29 percent in the Senate.


Infant Mortality: 6 per 1000 births (2018)

Percentage of HIV infected: 0.6 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young women

0.1 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.2 percent (2018)

Proportion of population with access to clean water: 99.2 percent (2015)

Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 96.6 percent (2017)

Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 9.2 percent (2015)

Public expenditure on health care per person: US $ 1,379 (2016)

Proportion of women in parliament: 20 percent (2018)