Amid one of the biggest economic crises in its history, Cuba faces a crossroads: how to recover when its society is rapidly aging and there is no young workforce?
The communist-ruled Caribbean island is already the most aging country in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Two out of 10 Cubans (21.9%) are at least 60 years old, Antonio Ajá, director of the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana (Cedem), told the news and image agency EFE.
This means that of the 11.1 million Cubans, almost 2.4 million are over six decades old.
The scientist stresses this results from social policies introduced decades ago that have extended life expectancy (about 79 years for both sexes).
However, this brings a problem from an economic and social point of view.
“It is a challenge for the labor force, which is smaller, for social security systems, health and protection of the elderly,” he said.
In other words, there are more old people and fewer young people of working age to sustain the country’s economic activity.
And in the long run, to fund the pension system.
Data from the National Statistics and Information Office show that in 2021 there were 99,096 births and 167,645 deaths.
“Cuba has similar demographic behavior to developed countries (low fertility, high life expectancy), but the difference is that they are countries that receive immigrants and counteract demographic aging through their economic development,” Ajá said.
Cuban economist Tamarys Bahamonde told EFE that the number of “dependent” people is also increasing: those who do not produce and live off their pensions after contributing to the economy.
The retirement age in Cuba is 60 (women) and 65 (men), with a minimum monthly pension of ₱1,528 (US$12 at the official exchange rate and US$8.7 in the widely used informal market).
The unprecedented exodus of migrants can largely explain the loss of young people of productive age.
Last year alone, authorities apprehended over 313,000 Cubans along the southern US-Mexico border.
This represents 3% of Cuba’s total population.
This figure excludes thousands of islanders who have absconded to other countries such as Mexico, Spain, or South America.
This phenomenon was confirmed a few days ago by Ángel Luis Ríos, general director of production linkages for the state-owned Azcuba company.
Ríos told the official newspaper Granma that sugar factories – once the engine of the economy – have a reduced and aging workforce due to the “effects of emigration” and that this has led to a deficit in the harvest.
“Cuba has had negative net migration since 1930, which has increased since 1959 (when the revolution triumphed), so the country is losing a population that has its full reproductive and productive capacity,” Professor Ajá said.
Internal migration is also negative because rural areas are “depopulated and overaged,” which is a “worrying” problem, for example, regarding food production because there are no people to work the land, the expert said.
Another reason for the exodus of labor is the lack of incentives.
The average wage in Cuba is about ₱4,000 (US$32 according to the official exchange rate).
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the fertility rate in Cuba is 1.4 children per woman, one of the lowest in the region (1.85 in 2022).
To maintain the level of reproduction in the population, a woman must have two children, one of which must be a girl, explained Ajá, who stressed that “Cuba has been below this indicator since 1978, with extremely low levels in recent years.”
For Bahamonde, the very low birth rate is rooted in the economic crises that are “chaotic for society, especially for women, since they are responsible for caring for the elderly.
Among the measures the government has taken to address this situation are the construction and maintenance of children’s circles, retirement homes, and maternity homes, as well as support for fertility programs and care for mothers with more than three children.
For Bahamonde, however, “the most important thing is to respond to the serious economic situation and then think about implementing complementary measures to boost the birth rate.”
In this sense, Ajá also believes that “we must strive to improve the economy and that the growth of the gross domestic product must be reflected in family income.”
“This must be accompanied by policies that promote the construction of housing, guarantee a solution to the problem of care for the elderly and children, and try to attract the Cuban population abroad,” added the director of Cedem.