Cuba, perspectives of the process of demographic transition
This means that the working population will decline. People will have a larger workload and that will forcefully bring about higher efficiency. The ensuing challenge will be to generate more with less.
Although 2008 saw around 10,000 births more than 2007, the Cuban population decreased for the third consecutive time, due to deaths and the number of people who migrated.
According to data supplied by the National Office for Statistics (ONE), the year 2008 saw more than 86,000 deaths, an all-time record since 1963, when this input was incorporated into the statistical system. Also, nearly 37,000 people migrated from the national territory, causing the largest exodus since 1994, during the so-called Rafters’ Crisis.
In statistical terms, the Cuban population is stabilized. Within 11 million inhabitants, there is no significance to an increase or decrease in the thousands. However, the trend does point to an obvious and marked decrease if there is no reversal in the trends of the three factors influencing demographic growth: mortality, migration and fertility,” says Enrique González Galbán, Head of the Population Department of the Center for Studies on Population and Development (CEPDE), attached to ONE.
The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) stated that Cuba is the only Latin American country whose population is declining. While the region reports an average growth rate of 1.3%, there was a -0.05% decrease on the Island in 2006 and, since then, the numbers have not ceased to show a negative trend. Over the last three years, the number of Cuban inhabitants has decreased by 7,737 people. Forecasts indicate that by 2020 we will have nearly 25,000 people less than in 2008.
By 1980, mortality would cease to be the leading cause of death. With the Mariel boatlift, the number of immigrants rose to nearly 142,000. That caused the largest decrease in the Cuban population since the first demographic census was undertaken in 1774.
After 1994, the outcome of foreign migration has been relatively stable. Since then, every year, between 30,000 and 36,000 people have stopped living in Cuba. As opposed to figures registered in previous decades, these are not alarming numbers.
The leading cause of the current decline
As of 2006, the number of Cuban inhabitants triggered a warning red light. This time around, the very low number of births that took place started the negative trend.
González Galbán provided several clues on this phenomenon: “Every year, the birthrate has been contracting. The year 2006 was the lowest in history, recording the highest decline in the last three years.” In terms of proportion, there were 9.9 births per every 1,000 inhabitants. In 1960, the ratio was three times higher.
Cuba reported a fertility rate of 1.5 in 2008, the lowest figure in Latin America. Only developed countries have registered such figures. In Europe, the birthrate is 1.4.
“In Cuba, there is no population replacement since 1977. That was the last year in which women had more than two children on average. And a population cannot reproduce itself if that rate is not overcome. In 1978, it went below two and never again have we been able to go past it,” ascertains González Galbán.
Sociologist Clotilde Proveyer, a professor at the University of Havana, explains the causes of the low fertility rates: “Today, Cuban women can choose to make their life’s plan, which on many occasions does not include motherhood as an immediate priority. Higher on the precedence list are personal achievement, labor insertion and professional requalification. The motivation behind that can be found in the gender policies implemented in the course of these 50 years. Family planning through the total access to contraception and the possibility of abortion also constitute a relevant cause.” In 2007, women accounted for 65.6% of the country’s professional and technical workers.
“There are also economic factors at play, as the need for housing, the difficulties in raising a baby and the additional cost for a family of having another individual to feed,” concludes Proveyer.
The other variables of the demographic formula
Low birthrates triggered the onset of demographic decline. However, since 2007, there has been an increase in the number of births, and figures continued to decline. One of the answers lies in the record number of deceased people. Then, a fourth element comes into play: population aging.
González Galbán explains: “Nowadays, people aged over 60 years account for 17% of the Cuban population, and this influences the increase in mortality. The higher the number of elderly people, the higher the possibility of deaths. And that was the case last year. The increase in old age, along with the low birthrates, causes a larger number of deaths and a lower number of childbirths.” By 2020, the oldest people will account for 21.6% of the Cuban population.
The man-woman ratio emerges as a fifth factor also influencing the complicated demographic equation. Since 1959 and every year thereafter, the birthrate points to nearly 6,000 males more than females. But since the latter have a higher life expectancy rate, around 7,800 males more than females die. In Cuba, there are 1,003 men per every 1,000 women.
Niuva Ávila Vargas, a sociologist at the Center for Demographic Studies (CEDEM) of the University of Havana, says: “There’s still no explanation to this ratio in births. However, the number of both sexes is offset thanks to male overmortality, a phenomenon determined by a myriad of socio-cultural reasons.
In the highest fertility segment, from 20 to 29 years of age, the scale between both sexes tilts to the male side. From 20 to 24, there are 1,066 men to every 1,000 women. In the meantime, from 25 to 29, the rate goes up to 1,074 males. What does that mean? Fewer wombs producing childbirths. According to ONE statistics, under 40 years of age, the number ratio is higher on the male side and, as of that age, on the female side.
Proportion between the sexes is also a variable present in the migration phenomenon. From the 1970s to 1994, working men were the majority social segment in outflows. A possible cause could be the adventurous nature of migration, as speedboats and illegal alien smuggling were the predominant method of reaching US shores, the main destination for the Cuban exodus.
Since then, the trend has been reversed. On average, over the last 15 years, 1,176 women have left the country for every 1,000 men. Sociologist Ávila Vargas says: “Right now, outflows have become feminized. Although related studies are not conclusive yet, some of the causes could point to the plans of having a child in better economic conditions; the larger number of females marrying foreigners to live outside the country. Now, due to the changes in gender relations, women are more determined when it comes to leaving the nation without a man’s assistance. The phenomenon has a multitude of reasons and social sciences in Cuba still do not have definitive answers.”
If a closer look is taken at the number of births over the last two years, the male-female number ratio would be discarded as the determining cause for the current decrease in birthrate. The increase in the number of children per woman, the highest since 2004, could be the balancing element.
The increase in fertility counters the negative effect of the disproportionate values between women and men. However, the relationship between both sexes does constitute one of the variables to be taken into consideration in analyzing the decline in population. According to the demographic circumstances around it, this will have an obvious, imperceptible or null influence.
Cuba is already in the process of demographic transition, an event that is common to developed countries. Will we hit the mark of 12 million inhabitants? Will we be increasingly less? Will we remain stable? Only the future will have the answers.