A few days ago, I had a conversation with an old friend of mine who operates an island-wide merchandising company and who was complaining about being unable to find workers in the Montego Bay area. As she spoke, I recalled a couple of other conversations that I had shared with other employers in the Kingston area who were having similar experiences. Although these people represented only a small percentage of the island’s population, it was becoming clear that this is perhaps a result of a slowing down of the country’s population growth rate.
Two is better than too many
I recall the mid-1970s family planning programme under the theme “Two is better than too many” which had been preceded by Family Life Education (FLE) teacher training workshops, a scheme for the commercial distribution of condoms and oral contraceptives (Panther and Pearle), and mass media (radio, television, billboards, and print) which became an important information dissemination channel for launching the “Two Child Family” campaign. In 1974, the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) officially integrated family planning services with the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) primary health care programme, thereby greatly increasing the number of health centres offering family planning. By the end of the decade, an island-wide network of family planning clinics was operating, and birth rates had decreased from 34 per 1,000 in 1970 to 15.107 per 1,000 in 2021. The last four years paint a discouraging picture as the birth rate for Jamaica in 2023 is 15.107 births per 1,000 people, a 1.46 per cent decline from 2022. This compares with the birth rate for Jamaica in 2022 which was 15.331 births per 1,000 people, a 1.45 per cent decline from 2021. The birth rate for Jamaica in 2021 was 15.556 births per 1,000 people, a 1.42 per cent decline from 2020, while the birth rate for Jamaica in 2020 was 15.780 births per 1,000 people, a 1.41 per cent decline from 2019.
Low fertility rates
At the outset, Jamaicans bought into the “two is better than too many” without appreciating that these population control measures would ultimately have a seriously deleterious effect on the country, way beyond the generally well-held view that the wrong people were having children. The view served as a temporary relief of the government for providing the economic and social guardrails on which a society is built. The “two is better than too many” policy succeeded and produced consistently reduced fertility among Jamaicans to the point where the United Nations has now projected that Jamaica’s population is expected to grow slowly over the next decade, with an estimated population of 2.9 million by 2030. With other factors such as high migration rates, deaths by murder, motor vehicle accidents, and other general mortality factors, it would only have been a matter of time before we got to this point.
As the population of Jamaica continues to grow slowly over the next decade, there may be some implications for the country’s economy and social structure. For example, with an aging population and a smaller working-age population, there may be challenges in maintaining economic growth and providing social and family services. Some of the potential dangers of this include: (i) demographic imbalances as with fewer children being born, there may be a smaller working-age population in the future to support an aging population which can strain social welfare systems and healthcare systems; (ii) a decline in family sizes can lead to a smaller workforce in the future which can make it harder for Jamaica to compete globally, as there may be a reduced supply of skilled labor to drive economic growth; (iii) a smaller workforce can also lead to slower economic growth, reducing the standard of living for Jamaicans and make it harder to provide basic services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure; (iv) decline in family sizes can also lead to changes in Jamaican culture and social norms, such as changes in family structures and relationships; and (v) a smaller population can lead to a reduction in resource consumption and environmental pressures, but it can also reduce the country’s ability to invest in sustainable development and environmental protection.
Stemming the population slide
It appears that if Jamaica is serious about growth and development that it will need to recognize that a problem exists and that the solution will require the consideration of a range of options to address the challenges and opportunities presented by a declining population. Some of the key options that Jamaica may need to consider include: (i) policies that encourage immigration of skilled workers, particularly in industries that require specialized skills and expertise; (ii) taking steps to foster economic growth by investing in education, infrastructure, and innovation to create an environment that attracts both local and foreign investment; (iii) policies that promote higher fertility rates, such as providing incentives for families to have children or investing in education and healthcare services that help women achieve a better work-life balance; (iv) consider raising the retirement age to help maintain a larger working-age population; (v) social an cultural changes through policies that support families, children, and the elderly, and encourage social cohesion and cultural preservation; and (vi) focusing on sustainable development and environmental protection, given the potential for a smaller population to reduce pressure on natural resources.
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