Cuba’s Aging Population May Test Economic Reform

Andrea Rodriguez underlines the problems that Cuba may face due to a large ailing population. She writes:

The scene at Havana’s Victor Hugo Park is unfortunately typical, with a handful of boys kicking a soccer ball through trees while dozens of gray-haired seniors bend and stretch to the urgings of a government-employed trainer. So few children, so many elderly. It’s a central dilemma for a nation whose population is the oldest in Latin America, and getting older. The labor force soon will be shrinking as health costs soar, just when President Raul Castro’s government is struggling to implement reforms that aim to resuscitate an economy long on life support.

[. . .] The aging of Cuba’s population has its roots in some of the core achievements of Fidel Castro’s revolution, including a universal health care system that has increased life expectancy from 69 years during the 1960s to 78 today, comparable with the United States. Abortions are free and it is estimated that half of Cuban pregnancies are terminated. High university graduation rates, generally associated worldwide with low fertility numbers, have Cuban women averaging 1.5 children, below the rate of replacement.

Cuba’s National Office of Statistics says about 2 million of the island’s 11 million inhabitants, or 17 percent, were over 60 years old last year. That’s already high compared to Latin America as a whole, where the rate is somewhere north of 9 percent, extrapolating from U.N. figures from 2000. That U.N. study shows Cuba’s population is aging even faster than that of China, which has forbidden couples to have more than one child. Cuba’s rate would be typical in a wealthy European nation. But Cuba lacks the wealth to cope with it.

The trend is accelerating, with the number of seniors projected to nearly double to 3.6 million, or a third of the population, by 2035. During the same period, working-age Cubans are expected to decline from 65 percent to 52 percent. [. . .] By 2021, more Cubans will be leaving the workforce than entering, according to government projections. The contracting labor pool presents a challenge for Cuba’s goal of making the country more productive and efficient without abandoning its policy of providing for everyone’s basic needs. Officials aim to eliminate 1 million redundant government jobs and grow a non-state sector that, it is hoped, will account for 40 percent of economic activity compared with about 15 percent today.

[Marino] Murillo, the economic czar, said authorities are studying measures for next year to try to stimulate fertility rates, but he did not give details. [. . .]

For full article (and photo), see and

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