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, October 27, 2015

Cuba: Demographic Distress or Success?

The NYTimes has an interesting article today on Cuba's demographics, focusing on the low birth rate on the island. The reporter, Azam Ahmed, clearly assumes that a low birth rate, perhaps anywhere, is a bad thing:
By almost any metric, Cuba’s demographics are in dire straits. Since the 1970s, the birthrate has been in free fall, tilting population figures into decline, a problem much more common in rich, industrialized nations, not poor ones.
The demographic crisis is both an economic and a political one. The aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the outside world.
But, wait a second. One of the reasons why the country has a growing older population is because the death rate is so low in Cuba. Life expectancy in Cuba is 78 years at birth, compared to 79 for the United States. Think about that. We complain in this country about how expensive health care is, but in poverty-stricken Cuba your chances of death at any given age are about the same as here. Why? Education is the key, as the article itself notes, quoting a former World Bank economist, Helen Denton.
“Education for women is the button you press when you want to change fertility preferences in developing countries,” said Dr. Denton, who now teaches at Georgetown University. “You educate the woman, then she has choices — she stays longer in school, marries at an older age, has the number of children she wants and uses contraception in a more healthy manner.” 
There is another factor that alters the equation in Cuba: Abortion is legal, free and commonly practiced. There is no stigma attached to the procedure, helping to make Cuba’s reported abortion rates among the highest in the world. In many respects, abortion is viewed as another manner of birth control. 
In Cuba, women are free to choose as they wish, another legacy of the revolution, which prioritized women’s rights. They speak openly about abortions, and lines at clinics often wrap around the building.
Who would have guessed? Educate women and give them control over their reproduction and they make responsible decisions. Now, if only that message had gotten through to people in Haiti... 

1 comment:

  1. Dear John,

    While the education of women may be, indeed, a contributing factor, a child constitutes an added burden to those who from birth have learned that leaving the island may be the only possible solution to a whole set of problems they cannot fix. The possibility of leaving in the near or distant future may be its own kind of birth control.