Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Notes on the demographic future of Cuba

In the past, Demography Matters has examined the demographic issues of Cuba at some length. In a August 2006, I noted that all of the predictions for Cuba expected rapid aging of the population, as a consequence of low fertility and sustained emigration, leading to substantial shrinkage of the country's workforce. In a July 2009 post, I noted that the Cuban population had already begun to shrink, and in a May 2010 post I argued that Cuba was missing too many opportunities for change, too many windows closing while it still had a relatively young population. The post-Communist example of Bulgaria was something I raised in 2006, with its spectre of incipient depopulation and the pre-existing example of massive Cuban emigration to the United States. Nothing that has happened since has convinced me this is not a plausible future for Cuba.

And now? Some of the announced changes by the United States, particularly the expanded volume of remittances that can be sent to Cuba by migrants and increased ease of movement and communication across the Florida Straits, might make provide greater incentives for migration. As a November 2014 Havana Times article noted, in the two decades after the Cold War a half-million Cubans emigrated to the United States. Why not more, if nothing else changes in Cuba?

I suspect that Cuba might not be coming to the last of its opportunities to get rich before it grows old. Will Cuba manage this transition in a new era of improved Cuban-American relations? One can only hope.

UPDATE: Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen argues that there are good reasons, including a vulnerable export sector, institutional weaknesses, and brain drain, to be skeptical of post-Communist Cuba's economic chances. (He also lists some reasons for hope, including high levels of human development, abundant natural resources, and a talented diaspora in the United States.)


Dwight Williams said...

Odds of a reverse-diaspora effect taking hold are...?

Jeff Rigsby said...

Two things that might slow Cuba's population decline: abolition of the gratuitous US immigration quota for Cuban refugees (30,000 per year or nearly 0.3% of the resident population), and a lifting of the US travel embargo (tourism is probably the island's main comparative advantage, as elsewhere in the Caribbean).