Last year a Minister forcefully downplayed the news that the Curaçao population was diminishing at an alarming rate. Now it turns out that the decline in 2018 was the largest we’ve seen in the past 15 years. Further analysis shows that the birth and mortality rates have remained unchanged meaning that the decline can only be ascribed to an exodus.
There’re other salient details. We have 92 men for every 100 women in Curaçao whilst according to the U.N. the global rate is 102 men for 100 women. A large group of women therefore can’t form lasting relationships, causing serious problems for our social fabric. Cases of single women leaving for this reason are more common than we realize. Women’s fertility rate here is 2.06 which is slightly below the replacement rate of 2.1 to maintain current population levels. In 1975 our population was 150,258, today it’s around 158,300, a growth of 5.3%. During this period Aruba’s population grew with 72%.
What’s needed is not dismissing these facts, but to recognize the need for comprehensive demographic policy. An increase in population and replacing our aging workforce are indispensable for economic growth, social stability and competitiveness. In 2009 I made the case for such a policy and a population of 300,000. This idea never really took off because of our aversion to long term planning and predisposition to immediately bog down in details instead of first looking at the big picture. We must revisit this issue however.
While we have a rather diversified economy, we can’t be ‘all over the place’ pretending to be competitive in all sectors. We need to agree what kind of country we want to be and which economic sectors we’re going to pursue. Then, we determine what kind of people, workforce and skills are needed.
We have to make it more attractive for people to have children by reducing the opportunity costs of getting married and raising kids. More flexibility in the workforce allowing couples to split the maternity and paternity leave between themselves may be an innovative incentive. Flexi-work making it possible for more employees to work whenever and wherever they can, even at home is a game changer. Also needed is a balanced immigration policy to attract our diaspora and foreign workers according to local needs. Future immigration policy must be tightly coupled with infrastructure development, urban planning, a proactive management of migrant integration and social cohesion.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but realize that economic growth is not possible with a shrinking population. Yet, population policy is not just economic policy, but it affects social policy as well as politics.
Finally, the exodus -mainly caused by our dismal economic performance- needs our immediate attention. We still chase after ad hoc ideas and dubious investors instead of concentrating on a policy mix that cuts bureaucracy, stimulate export, productivity and competitiveness. The lesson should be that what we put off as ‘too distant in the future’ will sooner than later turn up on our doorsteps.
Photo: Elderly man in a park in Yerevan, Armenia. Iphone, July 2018.