What we know and what we don´t know about the social realities in the Caribbean

Social mobility
Well being and life satisfaction
Demographic Economics - Migration

Did you know that in the Caribbean, youth unemployment is higher and adolescent fertility is lower than in the rest of the region, and that women’s participation in the labor market stands out for being higher than elsewhere in Latin America?

These are just three of the empirical findings, from the universe of 28 million observations analyzed, which can be extracted from Social Pulse 2016, one of the five annual reports of the Inter-American Development Bank. This study, led by Suzanne Duryea and Marcos Robles, describes the trends in over thirty key social indicators since the mid-1990s.  It also analyzes two issues in depth - changes in the family composition and the age profile of poverty- which could be affecting the dynamics within households and the scope of social protection programs.

The report adds value to the existing socioeconomic literature by allowing comparisons of social indicators across the whole region and throughout the life cycle, but especially as this is the first institutional study using the microdata of social conditions in the Caribbean in all  sections. Historically the coverage of this sub-region has been weak across social reports of international organizations. The fact that four of the twenty-two countries covered in each part of the study belong to that region represents a milestone in the collection and distribution of data, which is being supported by the IDB.

What we know about the social context in the Caribbean

Five observations stand out from the supporting data behind the Social Pulse:

  1. Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Jamaica are at an advanced or very advanced stage of the demographic transition. This means that they are experiencing low mortality and fertility rates and, consequently, show a relatively more advanced age profile.
  2. In this demographic context, there is an increasing tendency for older adults to live alone or with their partners. While this is a common trend in all countries in the region, it is most prevalent in the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica. Forty percent of older adults in these countries lived in these one or two person households in 2014. This means that the challenge of caring for this population group is also increasing, both for families and for social protection in the countries.
  3. With the exception of Guyana and Jamaica, adolescent fertility rates for young people between the ages of 15 and 19 between 2002 and 2014 are generally lower than in the rest of the region. The Bahamas - with 44 births per thousand live births - has the lowest rate, even though it remains well above, for example, the United States and England.
  4. Caribbean women contribute more to household labor income and participate more in the labor market than women in other countries in the region. In fact, one of the indicators that only Social Pulse has for the Caribbean is the percentage of the household labor income contributed by women. Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica exhibit the highest such percentage in Latin America and the Caribbean – around 50 percent. 
  5. The Bahamas and Barbados have the highest female labor force participation among the 22 countries analyzed, around 80%, much higher percentage than the average in the Southern Cone and the Andean region (60%), or that in Central America (50%). Additionally, Social Pulse shows that relative participation rates of women compared to men are also among the highest in Jamaica, Bahamas and Barbados. However, contextual and differentiated challenges are also identified. For example, the youth unemployment rate in the Caribbean - close to 30% in the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica - is not only among the highest in the region, but is also three times higher than that of adults. On the other hand, unemployment rates for adults reached 11.5% in Jamaica and the Bahamas in 2014, a sharper rise compared to other countries, and particularly since 2009.

What is left to know

These pieces of social landscape are meant to contribute to evidence-based policy making and design. However, there is no available information for other key indicators in most of the Caribbean due to the absence of regular comprehensive surveys, or to a limited thematic coverage of routine labor force surveys that do not collect complete information on income, education, or demography.

In particular, there is a need for more data on school attendance to properly estimate the inactivity of young people, as well as its relation to family income. In addition, it is desirable to have detailed information on the sources of income, to assess if the changes observed in key indicators are favorable to specific sectors of the population per their income, as well as to identify if social programs exhibit targeting inefficiencies. This, coupled with greater detail on changes in coverage and composition of pensions, would allow for more complex analysis and policy simulations that already exist in the rest of Latin America.

In sum, the provision of social data relevant to the Caribbean through the Social Pulse is a sign of worthy progress, but also a useful guide to identify areas where data still needs to be strengthened. The good news is that the IDB is providing non-reimbursable technical and financial assistance to various Caribbean countries, with the purpose of helping to close these identified data gaps. This includes the collection of surveys of living conditions and labor force surveys in countries without recent coverage.

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