This country reached a tipping point in 2006. It wasn’t any one event in particular, but according to Cuba’s Office of National Statistics, the island’s population of 11.2 million stopped growing that year, and dipped slightly. And it has been falling ever since.
Cuba’s population is projected to decrease by 100,000 by 2025, and the arithmetic behind that decline is a simple matter of subtraction: More and more Cubans are leaving the island, and Cuban mothers are having fewer children. The country’s fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman ranks as the lowest in Latin America.
The statistics highlight a risky demographic experiment that has been developing here for years.
While Cuba’s socialist health care system takes good care of the elderly and has prolonged life expectancy rates, the island’s lousy economy--squeezed by U.S. trade sanctions and its own inefficiencies--is driving young people to emigrate, while limiting family size.
As a result, senior citizens will be one of the fast-growing sectors of Cuba’s population in the coming decades. Life expectancy in Cuba is now 75 years for men and 79 for women, roughly on par with the United States, where those figures are 75 and 80, respectively, according to United Nations statistics. By 2025, according a recent article on the topic in Cuba’s communist newspaper Granma, 26 percent of Cubans will be 60 or older--the highest percentage of seniors in Latin America.
The article goes on to note that, with strained pension and other welfare systems, the standard of living for Cuban seniors may be quite low. Moreover, as the article notes, Cuba's aging isn't helped by emigration; the abstract "Cuban International Migration and Low Fertility Conditions ..." makes the point that Cuba's natural increase is diminished substantially by emigration. This will alter Cuba's standing in the Caribbean: A G. Edward Ebanks notes in his paper, continued high population growth in the Dominican Republic can expected to make that country the largest Hispanophone country in the Caribbean by the mid-21st century, while--he does not say, but this can be inferred--the Dominican Republic's lack of controls on internal migration allows for more fluid population distributions more suitable for an effective capitalist economy.
The UNFPA paper Social policies, family arrangements and population ageing in Cuba, by Rolando García Quiñones, goes into substantial detail. The findings are relatively predictable: Urban and developed areas are relatively older than rural and underdeveloped areas, the size of the average family has declined even as younger people find it necessary to stay in the family home on account of housing issues, and so on. The raising of the retirement age is something that receives extended treatment.
Until 2008, retirement age was 55 years for women and 60 for men. A new Law on Social and Security Assistance, approved by the end of last year by Parliament, came into effect on January 2009. Among other aspects, the new law modifies retirement age, increasing it by 5 years. But this increase will be gradual.
From 2009 onwards, retirement age will be raised six months each year, up to the year 2018, when it would be established at 60 years for women and 65 for men. Its application during the next ten years defers the retirement of more than 285 thousand people, with a saving of 4.5 billion pesos to the Social Security coffers. In the mean time it has been decided to increase the retirement benefits and to establish other benefits.
Of course, things can and will be complicated by migration. I've blogged about the division between Cubas A and B, a relatively developed west and a relatively underdeveloped east that traditionally produces migrants. Let's not forget the United States, home to a Cuban-American community with members numbering more than a tenth of the population of Cuba itself and concentrated in a south Florida that's the nearest point of American land to Cuba itself, providing beside numerous human links to sustain chain migration.
These migrations, on top of the general population aging, will certainly have a major impact on Cuba's long-term prospects. Replacement migration is a possibility, I suppose, but where from? Cuba's high human development doesn't correspond to the sort of high economic development that attracts migrants. It may well be that even with a best-case post-Castro transition, Cuba's economic prospects may be hamstrung by an excess of seniors and an insufficiency of workers. What the consequences of this would be for Cuban stability I leave to others to imagine.