Population aging is a priority issue within the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and Revolution, as expressed in number 144 which calls to focus particular attention on researching and implementing strategies to tackle the high rate of population aging across all sectors of society.
That said, the steady rise in the number of older adults within Cuba’s overall population is linked to the country’s economic, social, demographic, and environmental sustainability, and as a process must be addressed within the context of a population and development strategy.
According to Dr. Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, director of the National Office of Statistics and Information’s Population and Development Studies Center, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is quite simple:
“We are a country of old people because we have a high rate of human development, not as a result of the island’s economic performance, or gross domestic product per capita, but rather given its achievements in education and health.
“We live longer because we have better health, better education; we have more social assistance and greater security. This must all be put into context, of course. Cuba is a country with a low mortality rate, and high life expectancy at birth. We live more and die less, you see.
“I have always said that getting old is life’s victory over death. There’s no reason to be scared of it or see it as something negative, because in our case it is, without a doubt, the result of the social development process undertaken by the Revolution.”
SOME REVEALING FIGURES
Figures collected over recent decades confirm that there has been no generational replacement in Cuba since 1978, however the numbers also reveal other population-related phenomena occurring in the country and which vary depending on the region.
The central province of Villa Clara has the oldest population on the island, followed by La Habana – which interestingly enough is home to the municipality (Plaza de la Revolución) with the highest number of older adults in the country, standing at 27% - and then Sancti Spíritus, also located in the country’s central region.
Meanwhile, the lowest number of persons 60 years of age or older live in the east of the island. Noteworthy in this context is the municipality of Yateras (Guantánamo province), with older adults only accounting of 10% of the population.
Another interesting fact is that the majority of senior citizens on the island are women, while most individuals over the age of 60 live in urban areas, which has given rise to an equally interesting situation: the existence in rural areas, of a significant male population over the age of 60, who live alone.
The figures also show a steady rise in people emigrating over recent years, including older persons.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Two-hundred and sixty-six thousand children were born in Cuba in 1966. At that time there were one million less women of childbearing age than there are now. In 2017, a total of 117,000 babies were born on the island.
“Last year the population increased by 220 inhabitants. That is to say there was no growth,” stated Dr. Alfonso Fraga.
The unique thing about population aging in Cuba is the speed at which it has occurred. While it took Europe 200 years, an industrial revolution, colonialism, and the development of capitalism to reach the levels seen today in Cuba, while the island achieved the same change in just a few decades and under adverse economic circumstances.
Looking toward the end of the first half of this century, population forecasts for the island are as follows: older adults are expected to account for 21.5% of the population by 2020, rising to 30% in 2030 and 36.2% by 2050, at which point Cuba will be one of the countries with the oldest populations in the world.
“In 2019, those born in 1959 - the first year of the Revolution - will turn 60. These older adults are different, better educated, more assertive, more participative, and increasingly necessary every day,” stated the director of the National Office of Statistics and Information’s Population and Development Studies Center.
A FOCUS ON THE FAMILY
Alongside efforts by the state to cater to the needs of older adults, a governmental commission which deals with population demographics was set up in order respond to Guideline 144 of the Party’s Economic and Social Policy.
Regarding the island’s socio-demographic context, in which families tend to be getting smaller, it is precisely this core unit which represents the principal support base for older adults, while society as a whole must develop formulas to guarantee older adult care across both the state and private sector.
In order to achieve this, the Cuban government allocates financial and human resources to older adult community centers and homes, and initiatives which aim to promote their participation in society.
Regarding such spaces Dr. Fraga noted, “The major advantage of older adults community centers and homes is that they mobilize our seniors within society, and make them participate. What a wealth of experience and knowledge! So, we can feel satisfied, but we must also continue to develop support mechanisms and take care of our senior citizens.”