That the Cuban population is aging and also doing so at an accelerated rate is no secret. Rather, it is a daily certainty that is palpable in every sector of society. Because this change in the age structure of a population has direct impacts in areas such as the economy, health, care—just to mention a few—and poses enormous challenges.
If in 2019 20.8% of Cuban women and men had or had exceeded the sixth decade of life, at the end of 2022 this indicator stood at 22.3%, practically two percentage points more in just three years, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).
In its recent report The Ageing of the Population. Cuba and its territories, May 2023 edition, the ONEI maintains that it is precisely the aging of its population that is the main challenge for Cuba in the demographic field.
"This process has had as fundamental causes the accelerated speed of its demographic transition, the stabilization of low levels of fertility and mortality, variables that together with the behavior of migrations in recent years have caused almost zero or
negative growth rates," the report states.
It is worth noting that the definition of aging, from the demographic point of view, is related to the increase in the proportion of elderly people in relation to the rest of the population. "The phenomenon is also associated not only with an increase in the proportion of the elderly, but also with a decrease in the proportion of children and young people between 0 and 14 years of age, which affects the economy, the family, services, the replacement of human capital, social security and the high costs of medical/epidemiological care," refers to the document.
According to figures published in the ONEI, in the population census of 1899, this population amounted to 72 207 people, which represented
a degree of aging of 4.6%; For the 1953 census, this age group reached the figure of 402 306 people for a 6.9% degree of aging.
Today the number of people aged 60 and over in Cuba amounts to 2,478,087.
The latest population projection made by the ONEI estimates that by 2050, the elderly population will reach the figure of 3,343,520 people, which would represent a degree of aging of 35.9%.
In the aforementioned report, it recalls that together with the increase in the population aged 60 and over, the country has experienced a simultaneous reduction in the percentage of people under 15 years of age as a result of fertility below replacement level - less than one daughter per woman - since 1978, 44 years ago.
This level of replacement corresponds to a rate of 2.1 children per woman, and at least one daughter at the end of her reproductive period, which would ensure the replacement of the number of women of reproductive age.
According to the ONEI, "despite the relative territorial homogeneity presented by the variables of population growth, especially fertility and mortality, there are differentials that determine an unequal growth
and structure by sex and age, which translates into different degrees of aging at that level, which covers a wide range of values ranging from 15.4% of people aged 60 and over with respect to the total in the municipality of Yateras, in the province of Guantánamo, up to 30.3% in the municipality Plaza de la Revolución La Habana".
These municipalities are the ones with the lowest and highest degree of aging of the age structure of the population in the country, respectively. Villa Clara ranks as the province with the most people aged 60 and over, with 25.3%.
"At the end of 2022, the country's population aged 60 and over increased by 79,976 more people than in the same period of the previous year, representing an average annual growth rate of 33.3%. The behavior of this segment of the population by sex shows that men grow by 35,565 for an average annual rate of 32.3%, while the female population grows at a higher rate in 44,411 with a rate of 34.3%".
This means that aging is feminized, because they live longer than their male peers. Thus, in 2023 there will be 214,000 more women than men, a figure that by 2055 would rise to 287,000.
The demographic dependency ratio, which explains the possible dependence of potentially inactive people (people under 15 years of age and people aged 60 and over) in relation to the potentially active population between the ages of 15 and 59 years, stood at 613 in 2022.
This indicator, although not totally unfavorable so far, does warn of how it has been progressively increasing, if we take into account that in 2015 it stood at 559.
Other characteristics of the current demographic scenario
The accelerated demographic aging that Cuba is experiencing is not the only feature that distinguishes its population dynamics. To this, according to recent statements made to the national and foreign press by ONEI executives, we should add the decrease in the population in absolute numbers, the decrease in the number of people of working age and the total number of women of reproductive age.
According to the report The Aging of the Population. Cuba and its territories..., in 2022 95,403 people were born, compared to 99,096 the previous year, while 120,098 died, 47,547 people less than in 2021.
Life expectancy in the period 2018-2020 was 77.70 years, which represents a decrease compared to the period 2014-2016, when it was 78.1 years.
In recent days, in the balance of the Ministry of Public Health, it was specified that in that last period, the calculated indicator expresses in women a life expectancy at birth of 80.15 years and in men of 75.33 years, while in 2014-2016 this stood at 75.9 for them and 80.3 for women.
"The observed reduction is related, among other causes, to the high degree of population aging; the increase in risk factors that increase mortality from chronic noncommunicable diseases; the upward trend in premature mortality in young adults under 60 years of age, where deaths from accidents, cardiovascular diseases and malignant tumors have an important weight, as well as the first impacts of the pandemic caused by COVID-19 in 2020", said the Minister of Public Health, Dr. José Angel Portal Miranda.
At the end of March 2023, the preliminary population of Cuba is 11,082,964, and the trend is downward due to low fertility, the negative balance between birth and mortality rates and the external migratory balance, explained ONEI directors.
The director of the Center for Population and Development Studies of the ONEI, Diego Enrique González, said that taking into account the statistical variables, some alternative scenarios have been developed for years and in none of them the country could reach 12 million inhabitants.
Projections show a trend towards demographic decline and estimate that by 2025 the total population of the country will fall below eleven million inhabitants.
At the end of 2022, Cuba's population was 11,089,511 people, 23704 less than at the end of 2021.
During the past year there were 95,403 births and 120,098 deaths, which confirms the tendency to decrease in the population (more people die than are born, a behavior present for four years) and places the negative growth rate at -2.1 per 1,000 inhabitants.
In 2021, 167,645 deaths were registered, figures that were marked by the impact of the covid-19 pandemic in the country.
The highest population figure in the country was reached in 2016, with 11,239,224 inhabitants.
Another indicator presented in the report is the Global Fertility Rate (children per woman), which stands at 1.14, a figure that makes Cuba the nation with the lowest fertility in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19) is 50.6.
This indicator, although it has declined over the years in general terms, differs between territories, shows worrying patterns and rises even above the national average. It constitutes the main disarticulation of Cuban fertility, expressed in its low total fertility rate (TFR) and the specific adolescent fertility rate above what was expected and desired.
Research in this field shows that resistance to the significant decline in adolescent fertility persists, mainly in the eastern part of the country.
Referring to external migration, one of the elements that determines the population and its dynamics, the directors of the ONEI said at a press conference that there is talk of movement of passengers and not emigrants, because according to the legislation in force in Cuba people can be outside the country for 24 months extendable, so they do not lose their category of residents.
However, for different analyses, the figures reported by external organizations are valued, but they do not have the legality for their inclusion in Cuban statistics on this matter.
The truth is that if you want to see how a country changes, there is no better way than to observe its demographic dynamics, a process that forces us to rethink the way in which society is organized to respond to the necessary care that these changes entail and that go through specific policies aimed at addressing each element of this dynamic.
Public policies articulated with the development process in nations that are already experiencing an accelerated aging of their populations, as is the case of Cuba, are essential.
Demographic dynamics are, sensibly and as required, placed among the government's priorities, but its attention cuts across each of the components and sectors of society.
Hence, insisting on this vision of feeling part is an imperative, because there is no other way to learn to live with changes, be resilient to them and not stop sustainable development with the population at the center, as the subject of this process and not just object of dissimilar policies.
Reading the data illustrates the way. As a society we must then find a way to balance productive roles, in its broadest sense. That which happens to preserve a life cycle in the healthiest way and make sure it is as dignified as possible.
Cuba in Data: How is the Cuban population aging?