The Spanish colonial government and the Roman Catholic religion provided the glue that through 400 years has welded Mexico’s fragmented people into a burgeoning nation-state. Mexico’s population, more than 107 million by the year 2007, increased during the 1990s, but at a rate diminished to about half that of previous decades. Increased birth control and emigration largely account for the slowdown.
Mexico’s population has not always been increasing. Historians estimate that European diseases, largely measles and smallpox, wiped out a tragic 95 percent of the indígena population within a few generations after Cortés stepped ashore in 1519. The Mexican population dwindled from an estimated 20 million at the eve of the conquest to a mere 1 million inhabitants by 1600. It wasn’t until 1950, more than four centuries after Cortés, that Mexico’s population recovered to its preconquest level of 20 million.