Point counting volumetry has been used to decide whether or not altitudinal, ethnic and sex differences in birth weight in Bolivia are accompanied by changes in placental composition. Sixty eight placentae from healthy, term pregnancies were sampled from populations of Amerindian and non-Indian women living in Santa Cruz (400 m) and La Paz (3600 m). Altitudinal reductions in birth weight were not accompanied by significant alterations in placental weight yet highland placentae were substantially different in histological composition. On average, the highland placenta had a more voluminous intervillous space but reduced volumes of villi, juxtavillous fibrin and non-parenchyma. Whilst Amerindian newborn were heavier, placental weights were similar in both ethnic groups. However, the Amerindian placenta tended to possess more trophoblast and more villous stroma than its non-Indian counterpart. No sex differences were detected save for an interaction effect on fibrin which involved altitude, ethnic group and sex. Findings are discussed in the context of known morphometric and physiological differences between placentae in different experimental groups, notably in other types of pregnancy associated with reduced fetal growth.