The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By JosÉ Miguel GuzmÁn; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

4 Demographic Transition in the Caribbean: An Attempt at Interpretation

JEAN-PIERRE GUENGANT


Introduction

In the 1970s and 1980s, the thirty or so distinct geopolitical entities that make up the Caribbean region--defined here as the group of islands that constitute the West Indian archipelago plus the three Guianas ( Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana) and Belize--have in general undergone spectacular fertility declines. Fertility transition in the Caribbean does not, however, follow a single model. The latest known fertility levels range from 1.8 1.9 children per woman in five countries, to more than 5 children per woman in two countries. Furthermore, while the drop in fertility has been abrupt in some countries, it has been stretched over a long period in others. The following interpretation of these differing patterns of change is basically limited to an examination of the role of socio-economic factors. In the first place, the declines in fertility are briefly placed in their historical context, and in the context of the major transformations the countries of the region have undergone since the end of the Second World War. Secondly, an effort has been made to characterize the different types of transition. Finally, the importance of the following factors in the fertility decline is examined: the decline in infant mortality, the diffusion of contraception, the other proximate determinants of fertility, and economic and social change.


The Social and Economic Context

The Plantation Economy

In spite of their diversity in terms of surface area, population, and history, more or less all of the societies of the Caribbean have their origins in the plantation- based economic system imposed on them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the various European colonizing powers (Best 1968). Paradoxically, however, the elements that distinguish one country from another are also to be found in the gradual extension of the plantations throughout the region up until the nineteenth century. Thus, in a number of small islands, almost all available

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The author wishes to express his especial thanks to Alan B. Simmons of CERLAC, York University, Canada, for his comments and the assistance he provided.

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