Birth rate drops but official not worried

No population threat!

BY JEDIAEL CARTER Staff reporter carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 21, 2016

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Despite a decrease in the number of births in Jamaica, manager for the Population and Health Unit at the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Toni-Shae Freckleton believes that there is no threat to the country’s population.


In fact, she believes that the numbers are in line with the goal outlined in the National Population Policy of 1992.


"What we call the total fertility rate is the average number of children a woman is able to have over her reproductive years (15-49 years), and that is coming from a high of 6.0 children in the 1960s. In 2008 we were at 2.4, so you’re seeing that, over time, the fertility rates are declining and you’re seeing it in several of the fertility measures — not just by the number of births but by the average number of children that women are having," she stated.


"So, over time, if you think about the 6.0 from the 1960’s, we’re inching closer and closer to replacement fertility. For us in demography, replacement level fertility is approximately 2.1 children per woman which means that you are replacing yourself and your partner and the .1 is really a mortality differential," she explained.


She noted that there would be room for concern if the fertility rate fell below 2.1.


Freckleton reasoned that the reduction can be charted back to the 60s when the Government started to play an active role in slowing population growth through the establishment of the National Family Planning Board.


"The ‘Two is Better than Too Many’ campaign of the 1970s, that campaign among other factors, has contributed to why we are seeing the declines in fertility now. When you look at issues around, increased or improved participation of women in the labour force, increased educational attainment of women, these are just some of the factors that contribute to women delaying having children and also reducing the number of children they have," the manager reasoned.


"The average number of registered births peaked in the 1960s, with 1966 recording the highest number of births in Jamaica’s history — approximately 71,400. We are now averaging number of births at 37,600 in 2015, and that’s coming from our recently published economic social survey of Jamaica," she said.


According to Freckleton, the declining fertility rate is an indication that Jamaica is transitioning to become an ageing population.


"So, you’re looking at a situation where, if you look at the different segments of our population, you are seeing declines in the child population because less children are being born. And as we look at how the age groups graduate to the higher ones, we’re in a situation where we have an increasing youth population, an increasing working age population — and youth here is 15-24 — an increasing working- age population which is 15-64 and an increasing elderly population which are those persons 60 years and older," she told the Jamaica Observer.


An increase in the dissemination of information regarding contraceptive methods was also listed as a reason for the decline in the country’s birth rate.


She shared that through a population projections initiative with the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the population over time will become a stationary population — "a structure where we are going to approach periods where we are going to have as many elderly dependents in the population as there are children".


"When we start to hit now the doubling of the elderly age group, then the dependency of the population will shift from children to elderly. In our projections for 2050 we’re seeing that while there will be more child dependents than there are elderly dependents, the proportion of elderly dependents over time will increase, which will call demand for several types of goods and services for that age group," the demographer told the Sunday Observer.


"Things like this have happened in developed countries and an example that I want to use is Canada, Canada has already aged. One of the measures that they have undertaken is that you would see that there is an active effort to recruit from other countries to come to Canada to either study or to work, because once you’re in the Canadian system to study, you already have a foot in and you can get citizenship. And so this is a way of providing a supply for their workforce to offset their dependency population, particularly the elderly. So, migration is actually a policy measure that some of these aged countries use to bolster their workforce to ensure their economy can still grow," she reasoned.


Freckleton noted that the shift calls for proper planning and the implementation of effective policies.


"The ageing population will not only lead to an increased demand for goods and services, but also a change in the pattern for goods and services, the most obvious is the demand for schooling and health and wellness services ," she argued.


"The ageing of the population is expected to lead to an increase in the working age population at around 2030, which will translate into a larger labour force and, given Jamaica’s situation of a high level of informal employment and low levels of pension contribution, it is expected that there is going to be an increase in labour force participation rates especially among the elderly population, many of whom are living longer and not financially prepared for retirement," she continued.

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