On Cuba’s Birth Rate

Last month The Washington Post reported that “Cuba is giving parental leave to the grandparents of newborns, the country’s latest attempt to reverse its sagging birthrate and defuse a demographic time bomb.” Upon closer look, the low Cuban birth rate has been a cause of concern for years. Of course, fewer babies spell demographic trouble. The population on the island country is aging and if things continue, there will not be enough people to replace them when they die. The problem becomes even worse when one considers that there are many who flee the country every year. It makes better sense for those people to have children after they leave the country, not before.

Explaining this potential crisis, one website notes that “Cuba’s low birth rate is largely attributable to three factors: the sluggish economy, emigration of women of child-bearing age, and the fact that over 70% of the labor force is professional women (who tend to delay childbirth while they pursue careers).” On a personal note, someone I know was visiting the country recently and was told by a young couple, “Why would we want to bring children into this situation?”

Additionally, when The New York Times reported on the Cuban birth rate issues two years ago, it noted the island’s high abortion rate:

“There is another factor that alters the equation in Cuba: Abortion is legal, free and commonly practiced. There is no stigma attached to the procedure, helping to make Cuba’s reported abortion rates among the highest in the world. In many respects, abortion is viewed as another manner of birth control.

“By the numbers, the country exhibits a rate of nearly 30 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to 2010 data compiled by the United Nations United Nations. Among countries that permit abortion, only Russia had a higher rate. In the United States, 2011 figures show a rate of about 17.”

While The Times article thinks the Cuban abortion rate is more a result of the bad economy than the cause of the low birth rate, it is difficult to ignore such a high rate.

One further factor comes to mind. In his 2013 Erasmus Lecture to the Institute on Religion and Public Life, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses the possibility of believers establishing “creative minorities” in cultures that are not necessarily friendly toward religion. As he outlines his proposal, he interacts with a 2004 lecture from then Cardinal Ratzinger in which he discusses the population decline in Europe. Sacks remarks, “Though he [Ratzinger] did not use these words, he implied that when a civilization loses faith in God, it ultimately loses faith in itself.” These words might also be applied to Cuba’s population growth problem. Stated another way, faith in God ought to lead to greater faith in humanity, because faith is able to see that humans are created in the image of God. It ought to inspire a culture of life, where hope and love are in abundance.

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