This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Demographic Squeeze in Belize

My son, Greg, and I have discussed the concept of a "demographic fit" as it relates to the dents in the age structures of rich countries being filled in by migrants from the bulges in the age structures in developing countries [check out our book on Irresistible Forces for more details]. The Economist reports on an emerging situation in Belize that sounds more like a demographic squeeze than a fit. 
BELIZE has long been a country of immigrants. British timber-cutters imported African slaves in the 18th century, and in the 1840s Mexican Mayans fled a civil war. More recently, North American sun-seekers and retired British soldiers have discovered its coast. Light- and dark-skinned men stand side by side on the country’s flag.The latest migration is from elsewhere in Central America. Thousands of Salvadoran refugees arrived in the 1980s. More recently, Guatemalans have come seeking land. Of Belize’s 300,000 people, 15% are foreign-born. Thanks to higher birth rates, mestizos have overtaken creoles (of mixed African ancestry) to become the biggest group, making up half the population.
Belize has always been a bit of an outlier in the region--a predominantly English-speaking country sandwiched along the Caribbean coast next door to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, with El Salvador not far away. The country is about the same geographic size as El Salvador but has only about 300 thousand people, compared to El Salvador's 6 million, Guatemala's 14 million, Honduras's 8 million, and of course, Mexico's 114 million. Belize has a slightly lower TFR than either Guatemala or Honduras, and a higher life expectancy than those neighbors. But, like its neighbors, it has a young age structure and its long-term net outmigration rate suggests that its residents are not always able to find work at home. 
Migrants are also redrawing the map of the country. While in the rest of Central America people are moving from the countryside to cities, since 2000 the urban share of Belize’s population has fallen from 47% to 44%, as immigrants have set up border towns. In Cayo 7,000 new households have sprung up. Many are in Salvapan, a Salvadorean district complete with tortilla shops on the edge of the capital. It is likely to grow further: land stretching miles into the jungle has already been divided into lots.The population boom brings relief and strain. Most migrants are of working age, and keep the sugar, banana and citrus industries competitive by toiling for low wages in harsh conditions. But with almost a quarter of Belizeans telling census officials they are unemployed, not all locals welcome the new arrivals. And as Spanish becomes more important, monolingual creoles are losing service jobs.
Along the border, Guatemalans poach game and plants from Belize’s national parks. Last month Belizean soldiers killed a Guatemalan while he harvested palm leaves. The state has had to build roads to remote migrant outposts in the jungle.

So, the picture really looks like one in which Belize's neighbors are spilling over, quite literally, into it. Their demographic pressure is able to let off a little steam by squeezing into Belize. It's not  guaranteed that this will have a happy ending.

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