My view of the world is that demographic indicators allow us to read the social and political health of a group of people. Today's death of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is a good time to put that idea to the test. Chavez was certainly one of the most controversial leaders of this young century, and people tended to line up strongly for or against him, as noted in a lengthy piece in Bloomberg.com. But what happened demographically during the 14 years that Chavez was in power? The population continued to grow pretty much unabated, from about 24 million in 1998 when he took office to an estimated 30 million today (keeping in mind that back in 1950 there were only 5 million Venezuelans).
Population growth is fueled by a combination of declining mortality. Life expectancy for females went up from 75 when Chavez was first elected to 77 at the time of his death; and infant mortality declined from 19 to 16., Chavez may have gone to Cuba for his cancer treatment, but Venezuelan death rates are moving in the right direction. There is also a small amount of immigration (more people are coming in than are going out). At the same time, the total fertility rate declined from 2.7 to 2.5. Since this is still well above replacement level in a country whose life expectancy is several years above the world average, the age structure is very youthful (about 30 percent under age 15) and that is driving the growth in population. Indeed, although none of these demographic indicators is very startling, and they are all in what might be called a positive direction, whoever leads Venezuela into the future is going to have to help the country deal with a population that, according to UN population projections, will add another 10 million people over the next twenty years. Coping with that isn't going to be easy.
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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