Cuba's past and future populations
For most of its post-Columbian
history, Cuba has had a relatively
small population, numbering barely more than a quarter-million people by 1792
and only reaching the total of one million people in the 1840s. During the first
three centuries of Spanish rule, Cuba was neglected in preference to the much
richer mainland; in the final century of Spanish rule, a Cuba that was now one
of Spain's major colonies prospered thanks to an open economy dominated by its
sugar plantations. Cuba's white population was bolstered first by the immigration
of French refugees from the future Haiti then by substantial immigration from
metropolitan Spain, complementing a very large Afro-Cuban population and the substantial
community created, like the other Asian immigrant communities in the 19th century
Caribbean, to replace the labour that enslaved Africans were once forced to provide.
The incessant wars of independence in the late 19th century slowed Cuba's growth
somewhat. After Cuba became
independent, the 1899 census recorded a total population of 1.57 million people,
89% of whom were born in Cuba. This Cuba was still at a very early
Abel F. Losada Alvarez' 2000 paper "Demographic
change and economic growth in Cuba (1898-1958)" (PDF format) provides an excellent
outline of the first six decades of independent Cuba's demographic history.
Let us bear
in mind that most works on economic growth in developing countries locate the
development threshold, demographically speaking, at a life expectancy between
50 and 55 years of age and a net reproduction rate between 2.0 and 1.75. In
1953, Cuba was already on its way to the so-called "modern population growth",
with a life expectancy slightly over 60 for both sexes and a NRR of around 1.75.
In the 1950-1955 period, Cuba was clearly outside the "Strategic Growth Territory"
of Latin America at that point, in an intermediate position between the Western
European "territory" of the thirties and that of the whole of Latin America
around 1985-90. These stages of demographic development have been conformed
by the confluence of modernization factors and elements which have conditioned
the rhythm and variety of this modernization.
Alvarez suggests that Cuba's population was helped along in its "demographic modernization"
by the immigration of more than a million people in the three decades after independence,
including 735 thousand immigrants from Spain. These Spanish immigrants, mostly
from the regions of Galicia
in the northwest of Spain and from the insular Canary
Islands, had already adopted for themselves many of the contraceptive and
other behaviours typical of populations advanced on the demographic transition
and communicated them to Cubans. Other factors--the growth of a culture of mass
media and mass consumption aided by the nearness of the United States, Cuba's
increasing urbanization, and a rapidly rising standard of living--played their
standard role. By the time of the Cuban Revolution, despite continued high rates
of net immigration from Spain and the Caribbean as well as a high birth rate,
Cuba's population was starting to stabilize.
Cuba's Communization changed these trends substantially. After a brief post-revolutionary
baby boom, Cuba went through an accelerated
transition, TFRs dropping below replacement levels in 1978. At the same time,
Cuba abruptly became a country of mass emigration; to date, more than a million
Cubans have emigrated in successive waves, most to the United States where these
have formed a famously coherent Cuban-American
community in exile. Cuba's population growth has continued throughout the
forty-seven years of Castro's rule and is still relatively young by the standards
of First World countries, but with sustained sub-replacement fertility rates and
continued high rates of emigration it is fast tapering off.
How is the Cuban population likely to evolve in the coming years? Sergio Díaz-Briquets'
future Economic Crisis: The Ageing Population and the Social Safety Net" paints
an alarming picture. As a result of Cuba's particular demographic trends, Cuba's
"median age has risen from 23.4 years in 1960 to 32.9 in 2000; it is projected
to increase to 43.1 by 2025, rising even further by 2050, the end of the projection
period." This rapid aging will have serious effects on the Cuban work force.
In 2002, when the country
had 1.6 million elderly, the [Potential Support Ratio] in Cuba was 7, a relatively
favorable ratio. By 2050, as the number of elderly is projected to reach 3.7
million, with a relatively unchanged overall population size, the PSR is expected
to decline to 2 potential workers per retiree.
By comparison, in 2050 the Dominican Republic is expected to have a PSR of 4
and Chile and the United States PSRs of 3. The problem of underfunded retirement
and pension systems that bedevils First World countries will be catastrophic
for Cuba, in Díaz-Briquets' words possibly "imperil[ling] the country’s economic
development since financing pension and health care programs will consume a
disproportionate share of national resources. Paying for elderly services will
be a major drag on the economy, placing a heavy tax burden on individuals and
businesses. The tax burden may even be so onerous as to make Cuba less than
attractive as an international investment destination."
Cuba's substantial economic underperformance, taking Cuba from a position alongside
the richest countries of Latin America and southern Europe to one closer to
the poorer countries of the Caribbean and Central America, thus might never
be remedied. Indeed, it almost certainly will worsen Cuba's population prospects.
Leaving aside the obvious economic incentives for potential emigrants from Cuba,
Luis Locay argues in his papers "Schooling
vs. Human Capital: How Prepared is Cuba's Labor Force to Function in a Market
Economy?" (PDF format) and "The
Future of Cuba's Labor Market: Prospects and Recommendations" (PDF format)
that Cuba's well-educated labor force is inefficiently deployed, with the professional
sectors of the Cuban economy having far too many workers for their own good.
Locay concludes in his second paper that "[t]he current occupational and skill
distributions of Cuba’s labor force are probably quite different from what they
will be in a future market-oriented economy. Considerable retooling will be
necessary. This not only will be costly, but also means that Cuba’s relatively
high levels of education and large stock of professional talent overstate the
earning capacity of the island’s labor force." A population with basic expectations
that aren't likely to be met in its country is certain to produce a good number
Students of Cuba's likely post-Castro transition have looked around the world
for likely models. People interested in Cuba's population prospects might be
best served by looking at the example of Bulgaria, where the country's
population has fallen through the emigration of something like one
million Bulgarians--a ninth of the 1990 population--between 1990 and 2005.
at 7.7 million, Bulgaria's population is commonly
to fall by another third to 4.8 million by 2050, thanks to lowest-low fertility
and massive emigration. Bulgaria is by some
measures three times as wealthy as Cuba, though; disparities between the
living standards of Bulgaria and Greece are much smaller than those prevailing
between Cuba on the one hand and the United States or Spain on the other. Moldova's
experience might be worth keeping in mind.
Most of the estimates made of Cuba's future population expect the island nation's
population to remain more or less stable until 2050 at around 11 million people.
It's safe to say that these estimates are almost certainly overcounts. For the
time being, I feel comfortable in predicting that after Castro, the Cuban diaspora
will grow very strongly indeed.
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