Like many other regions of the world, the Latin America and Caribbean region (ALC) is undergoing a process of demographic transition toward an aging population. This transition first became apparent in the 1970s and was caused by the combined effect of lower birth rates on one hand and an increase in life expectancy on the other. Between 1970 and 2005, the birth rate went from 5 children per woman to 2.8 in the ALC, reaching levels lower than the world average, which is around 3 children. In 2000, Haiti had a birth rate of 5 children per woman, making it the country with the highest rate in the insularCaribbean.
The other side of the coin in the aging of the population is the reduction, both in absolute numbers and in percentages, of the youth population. The decrease in the youth population can be seen in statistics such as the decrease in the percentage of young people in the overall population and the increase in the average age of the population. In the ALC as a whole in 1970, the average age was 19 years. In 2000, that figure was 25 years. Cuba has the highest average age in the ALC region at 33 years. By 2050, it is expected that the average age of the population in the entire ALC region will be between 35 and 40 years, with the exception of Cuba, which will be the oldest country in the region with an average age of 46 years.
At the same time, while the ALC region overall has shown a pattern of population decreases, in relative terms the adult (30-64 years of age) and elderly adult (65 years and older) segments have shown a pattern of increases in percentage of the population while youths (15-29 years) and children (14 years or less) are declining in percentage terms. The percentage of youths in the overall population ranges from 25% to 40% in the ALC today and the decline has accelerated since 1990. It is projected that it will reach a level of about 24% in 2020 as a result of the predicted decreases in birth rates. The number of youths per 100 adults (30-64 years), for example, fell from 97 in 1985 to 80 in 2000 and to 67 in 2010. It is expected to fall even further to 56 youths per 100 adults in 2020 and to 46 by 2050. But the most dramatic change is the relationship between the number of youths and the elderly population (65 years and older). The number of youths per 10 elderly adults fell from 62 in 1985 to 52 in 2000 and to 41 in 2010. It is estimated that this pattern will also continue in the future, reaching 29 youths per 10 elderly adults in 2020 and just 8 youths per 10 elderly adults in 2050.
Some analysts argue that this pattern of declining youth population will lead to intergenerational conflict between youths and adults over power. It will also create a problem with labor in the economy that could be beneficial for youths, as it will mean greater access to jobs and better salaries. All of this will depend on the level of investment that governments make on the education and training of these youths.
Meanwhile, the demographic transition has meant decreased birth rates among all age groups with the exception of births to adolescents. In fact, youths (particularly in the lower social classes) are responsible for much of the generational replacement in these societies. Some demographers have talked of a “pattern of rejuvenation” of birth rates as evidence of a situation in which live births are occurring disproportionately among youths. Countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Colombia show increasing numbers of live births among adolescent mothers.
Autor: Luis Galanes
Published: May 31, 2012.
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