Population Aging in Cuba

January 3, 2013 | Print Print |

Elio Delgado Legón

Population aging poses a major challenge to the government.

HAVANA TIMES — Much has been said recently about population aging, not only in Cuba but also in the rest of the world – especially in developed countries.

To counter the situation, in some places workers are being imported through immigration and policies have been adopted to increase the birthrate.

With Cuba’s revolution in January 1959, the altering of the situation of stark poverty and terror that reigned across the country resulted in a demographic explosion. In just 50 years the population doubled.

However, the level of social development (health care and education) that we have attained has acted to slow population growth and at the same time increase life expectancy (which before 1959 was 60 years of age and today has reached almost 80).

Population aging poses a challenge to the government, and for that reason one of the guidelines of the economic and social policies adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Party expressed the need to “pay particular attention to the study and implementation of strategies in all sectors of society to address the high levels of population aging.”

Faced with this increase in the median age, a number of measures have been taken. These included increasing the retirement age by five years, allowing retirees to return to work without losing their pensions, and creating and expanding senior recreation facilities.

Another measure that I think will be necessary is to increase the capacity and improve conditions of nursing homes, since there are many seniors who lack family support and need to be provided with social, psychological and medical attention at that stage of their lives.

Difficulties in obtaining housing and the high cost of living are factors that affect women’s decision on whether to have children.

Although the family circle is the ideal setting for promoting the most pleasurable golden years for the elderly, there are many who lack this possibility; therefore it’s the responsibility of the socialist state to provide these conditions.

The Ministry of Health is taking up the challenge of the growing number of people over 60 and it intends to continue working to increase life expectancy by improving the quality of assistance, which — as we know — is completely free.

But it’s not enough to care for the elderly. The country’s economy needs to replace its workforce, which is why it’s necessary to increase the fertility rate. In 2011 this was at 45.3 births per 1,000 women of reproductive age, and the average number of children per women was 1.77, which is below the required replacement rate.

There are many reasons for the low birth rate, including the elimination of discrimination against women and their access to higher education free of charge (and therefore opportunities for them obtaining important jobs and management positions in production, politics and government).

Career opportunities alone make women carefully consider the fact that by having a child they will be kept away from their work for a while just at the age when they’re beginning their professional lives.

The country’s economy needs to replace its workforce, which is why it’s necessary to increase the fertility rate.

In my view, these are the fundamental causes for the low birth rate, but there are other factors such as difficulties in obtaining housing and the high cost of living – especially the high prices of items for children.

What also has an effect, though to a lesser degree, is the emigration of women of reproductive age, which should decline to the extent that the economic situation improves.

While it’s true that the revolutionary government has passed laws that benefit working women (such as paid maternity leave for three months, the possibility of taking leaves from their jobs for up to one year to care for their babies without losing the job, and the creation of day care centers where education begins at the age of one), further actions are necessary given the need to increase the birth rate.

In the last session of the outgoing legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power (Parliament), a commission was created to study the issue of population aging and the birth rate, which shows that the government is fully aware of the problem.

Undoubtedly, increasing the birth rate in Cuba is a strategic need that in the long-term will benefit the economy. It’s necessary to adopt policies with specific measures toward that end. I would suggest two, which would undoubtedly help a great deal.

First, give privileges (such as obtaining housing with loans) to couples who have a second child. Second, sell baby’s and children’s items at just over cost, which could significantly reduce their current high prices.

These and perhaps other measures that could be suggested by the commission charged with the matter. In the medium term, these measures could reverse the predicted trend of population decline thus guaranteeing workforce replacement and mitigating the economic consequences of population aging.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    Data show a sudden drop in the Cuban population between 2010 and 2011, continuing in 2012. I can think of no reason for the sudden drop of almost 390,000 in population from 11,477,460 in 2010 to 11,087,330 in 2011.

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?v=21&c=cu&l=en

    Therefore there figures are most likely an artifact of the data collection, perhaps an over-estimate of the 2010 population based on historical trends without taking into account more recent changes. That said, it does look like the Cuban population is now contracting for the first time in over 100 years. As there is little to no chance young immigrants can be enticed to move to Cuba to add to the workforce, Cuba will have to face the aging demographic on their own. It has been estimated that by 2030, a full one third of the population will be over 60. No nation in history has ever survived a demographic collapse of that magnitude.

  • Grady Ross Daugherty

    Thanks once more, Elio, for an excellent article. I am especially grateful that you showed how the population of Cuba doubled during the first half-century.

    I wonder if the PCC is helping women and parents to organize day-care cooperatively?

  • Griffin

    The population of Cuba in 1900 was 1.6 million. By 1959 the population has grown to 6.9 million. From 1959 to 2010, the population grew to 11.9 million. The greater rate of growth occurred in the years prior to the revolution. Much of this growth was due to a steady flow of immigrants to Cuba drawn by a rapidly growing economy. The population growth since the revolution is in very large part due to improvements in public health. During this period some 2 million Cubans have emigrated from the island, while very few people immigrated to Cuba. The birth rate has been declining since the 1980s and is now about 1.47, well below population replacement levels. Since 2010, the population of Cuba has begun to decrease as well as age, with no sign of any immigration to pick up the slack. These are not a encouraging demographic trends for Cuba.

    Indeed, the Cuban govt must address this impending demographic collapse. Each year that passes without reversing, or at the very least slowing, these negative trends will make the ultimate solution even more difficult to achieve. The only way to convince young Cubans to stay and for Cuban women to have more children is to provide a society that engenders hope for the future. Will the economic reforms be enough to do that? The only potential source for immigrants can be found among Cuban émigrés if they can be enticed to return home. The government statements that there will be no political reforms of any kind pretty much assures there will be no such immigration to Cuba. In short, the current policies will be too little, too late to avert the coming demographic crisis.

  • Moses

    I am pleased to read Elio’s post, especially in view of his usual pro-Castro bias. It is interesting to note that he suggests lowering prices of baby supplies as opposed to raising the salaries of the mothers. It is precisely this kind of economic manipulation that got Cuba in the stink they are in. Does Elio realize that if the government lowers prices for baby supplies, they will have to raise prices on something else? If not, the economy as a whole will suffer, jobs will be lost, repairs delayed, etc. While raising salaries also comes with its own problems, like inflation, at least the negative effect will be shared and hopefully minimized by the whole system and not just those consumers forced to pay higher prices to subsidize baby supplies.