Demographic transition (2012)



The high population densities across the archipelago are accentuated by coastal concentrations and urbanisation. The mass of young people arriving on the limited or ill-adapted job markets have pushed those states (as well as several in South America) into promoting policies aimed at curtailing demographic growth, which currently is at a rate slightly lower than the world average.

All the states of the Caribbean region are at stage 3 of the ‘demographic transition'. Accordingly, it is across the whole zone, with the exception of Haiti, that one observes a decrease, sometimes slow but undeniable, in birth rates (around 20 per 1000), largely explained by increased levels of schooling for girls, as well as boys. The recent acceleration of urbanization has helped to bring about this spread of full-time education. The trend encourages delayed marriage and, as a consequence, a lowering of the fertility rate.

It is common to relate level of economic development to demographic situation. If in the Caribbean the correlation is generally found to be the case, one may also note important exceptions. Unsurprisingly, Haiti conforms to the rule, but Cuba which is categorized as one of the poorest countries displays birth and death rates, as well as an index of fertility, which are particularly low, and much nearer those of developed countries. Nearing the end of the demographic transition, but with continuing population growth, produces a landscape where the young appear omnipresent.

This variable pattern is also in evidence across the under 15 age segment of the population: representing more than 30% in the isthmic countries and around 20% in a group of states as disparate as that including the United States (20%), Cuba (17%), Martinique (20%), Barbados (17%), or the Cayman Islands (19%). By extension, the over 65 age group is small (less than 16%), despite efforts to eradicate the great pandemics as well as the contribution made by improved sanitation to life expectancy.

Food availability, despite some disparities, is at acceptable levels, even allowing for imbalances in some places in favour of tubercles and cereals. The mortality rate is decreasing, so that the few centenarians of Martinique or Puerto Rico are no longer of just anecdotal interest, placing much of the Caribbean zone above the world average in life expectancy.

In the small islands the particular problems posed by insularity remain - high unemployment and low incomes often make it impossible to modernise plant and facilities, accounting for the anachronisms to be seen in the Bahamas, a wealthy area with a high mortality rate and relatively low life expectancy. Clearly contrasts remain across the Caribbean basin, emphasizing the complexity of these demographic trends and resorting to mechanistically derived interpretations is not always useful. Different attitudes, traditions and also voluntarist policies can impact on demographic behaviour far more than one might be led to believe from economic statistics or tables of per capita GDP

Author: Monique Bégot
Translation:  : Louis Shurmer-Smith