The demographic drivers of grief and memory after genocide in Guatemala

Demography, 59:3, 1173–1194 (2022)
Open Access


Mortality crises are relatively common demographic events, but we know little about how they affect local populations beyond excess mortality. I argue that using a kinship perspective to study mortality crises provides valuable insights into (1) how excess mortality affects the exposure to kin loss and (2) how family bereavement may contribute to the reproduction of historical memory in the long term. I explore these two processes using a unique genealogical database that records the complete demographic history of Rio Negro, a genocide-affected population in Guatemala, between 1982 and 2015. The analysis shows that deaths from the 1982 genocide were balanced by age, sex, and socioeconomic status. One third of the population were killed, but two thirds were left bereaved (the top 10% most affected individuals lost 30% of their nuclear family relatives and 23% of their extended family relatives). Notably, the proportion of the population related to a victim did not change between 1983 and 2015. The persistence of family bereavement can be interpreted as a prolongation of grief or as a driver of historical memory. These demographic dynamics have implications for the study of historical events beyond mortality crises.

Schlagwörter: Guatemala, excess mortality, kinship, population change, war
Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.