Today I am going to discuss an island nation that is failing to replace itself and is going to have to rely on immigration to survive. No, I am not blatantly copying Michael’s front page post on Singapore.  Instead, I am talking about the socialist paradise that is Cuba.

According to the AP, Cuba is facing the same demographic problems that plague so many countries in the world.  These problems can basically be boiled down to the following – there are not enough babies being born to replenish the rapidly ageing population.  Thus the workforce is shrinking (or is about to) and the government has to look overseas for immigrants to replenish it.

What is interesting in Cuba’s case is that it is another example of a country that is not the (relatively) wealthy west, yet is suffering from the same malaise. Officially, it is not even capitalist yet it is ageing like the best of Western Europe. According to the AP, this ageing population can be traced back to some of the “core achievements” of Fidel Castro:

“…including a universal health care system that has increased life expectancy from 69 years during the 1960s to 78 today…[a]bortions 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.”

Can killing off half of your future population be considered an “achievement”? And surely the 50% abortion rate has more responsibility for a low birthrate than the “high university graduation rates”? 

For whatever reason (or achievement) about 17% of Cuba’s population is aged over 60 – in contrast, the Latin American figure as a whole is about 9%.  By 2035, the number of seniors is expected to have grown to around a third of the population, while working age Cubans will have declined from 65% to 52%. Cuba’s population has reached its peak of 11.2 million people and negative population growth will be the rule for the “foreseeable future”.  As the AP notes, this is typical for a wealthy European nation, but Cuba is not wealthy.

Another one of Castro’s “achievements” that exacerbates this trend is the weak economy of Cuba which results in an outflow from the country of around 35,000 people a year.  Not only is this a high number in itself, but the type of person leaving is not helping the population:

“Research shows emigrants are increasingly women of child-bearing age, which compounds the problem, according to Alberta Duran, who was among the first to examine the aging trend before retiring from her post at a Cuban sociological research institute…‘Reform becomes more difficult due to emigration,’ said Sergio Diaz-Briquets, a Washington-based expert on Cuban demographics. ‘Those who leave are the youngest, best-educated and most ambitious.’”

As the population greys, more resources will have to be diverted into caring for the elderly.  This leaves less money to be spent on stimulating the economy and is worrying Cuba’s law rulers:

“The labour 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.

‘We must be perfectly clear that the aging of the populace no longer has a solution,’ Castro’s economic czar, Marino Murillo, told lawmakers in an alarmed tone last month. ‘It is going to happen, and that cannot be changed in the short term. … Society must prepare itself.’”

The future that the Cuban society must prepare itself for can perhaps be seen by considering the situation of Emilia Moreno:

“Still vigorous at 75 years old, she lives alone in a small apartment in Central Havana and spends much of her time at a neighbourhood senior centre that provides 1,000 retirees with medical attention, meals and social activities such as singing and dance classes.

‘Cuba is fighting so that people of a certain age don’t feel too bad,’ she said.

But her only child left for the US a decade ago, and she knows that one day she’ll be completely dependent on the government because she has no family to take care of her when she cannot.

‘I had heard people talk about how they felt empty when a family member left, but I had no idea,’ Moreno said, caressing a photo of her daughter, Yeniset.”

Moreno’s story perhaps shows better than any statistics the sadness and loneliness of an ageing population. Sure it means fewer taxpayers, but on a more personal level it also means fewer family members for Sunday meals, fewer grandchildren to spoil rotten and fewer phonecalls from relatives interested in you and your wellbeing. This is the future that Cuba, and so much of the rest of the world, is facing.