Tue | Mar 19, 2019

Census: uncensored

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Proud parents Altano Morgan and Tamara Morgan beam at their newborn, Joshua Morgan, during the Big Baby Shower show at Devon House on July 8. The just-released census indicates that Jamaicans are having fewer children than 10 years ago. - File

Orville Taylor, Contributor

So, the numbers are in, and unlike opinion polls, we have seen the most accurate measure of Jamaican demographics possible. Almost everyone, his brother, spouse, wife, sweetheart, grandparents and other relatives have been counted.

I like censuses because, despite the fact that speechmakers do not often consult the figures before blabbing their mouths about how bad this country is, the digits are more honest than they. Now, we know that around 2.7 million people live here.

Scrupulously done by professionals at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) - and I am proud to say, headed by a University of the West Indies (UWI) trained sociologist, the census has shown that we are closer to being a First World country than what we used to call Third World.

Typically, developed countries have: low birth rates, high life expectancy, ageing populations and low rates of population growth. Our median age is now 27, up from 24 just 10 years ago. This means that half of the population is 27 years of age or older. If we look at other data, we see a robust improvement in longevity from the 2001 figures. Jamaicans were expected to live, on average, 75 years in 2001, with males living, on average, 73, and females, 78. With the median age increasing by three, we can expect a proportional rise in the number of years we live.

Living longer

There is no black country in Africa with comparable life-expectancy estimates, and in fact, Jamaicans live longer than black Americans, whose figures were 72.2 years, with males living 68.6, and females, 75.5 years. The present figure for African Americans stands at 73.6 years, with males signing out at 70.0, leaving females to live 6.8 years longer.

As with the legends and tales which form our popular folklore, out the window we throw the commonly held myths about sex distribution in the population. And when we speak of sex and frequency, we are simply talking about the number of persons who have either male or female organs. This must not be confused with gender, which has to do with roles. Nor does sex in the census refer to the act of copulation. Yet some people get it amusingly wrong, and say they have gender several times a week.

It is not true; there are seven women to one man, unless it is when he is being attacked for maintenance. With a ratio of 51:49, there are as many females as males in Jamaica, with the 'fairer' sex slightly more at 1,363,450 million, compared to males 1,334,533 million. Women also live longer, and this has to do with a number of factors. But, not as a student quipped in class, "because they generally don't have wives". What is true is that much of the shorter lifespans of males is linked to gendered factors.

Men, unlike women, tend to shy away from medical attention until they are ill. Furthermore, men are averse to invasive tests. Therefore, prostate trouble will not readily be found in the average Jamaican man unless he goes counterculture and endures the seemingly misnomered examination which, though named 'digital', is more analogue and manual.

Still, the life-expectancy data are the most problematic for policymakers. On the one hand, this is a good sign, as it means that more of us are living longer and potentially fuller lives. However, a geriatric population will need a stronger social safety net, since government and employers can no longer hope that pensioners die early. Furthermore, women, who live longer, get National Insurance Scheme benefits five years earlier. The International Monetary Fund and the disingenuous legislators who feel that they can unilaterally modify the status quo are watching.

More well off

Nevertheless, on the whole, the population is better off than it was in 2001. Coupled with the data on poverty and unemployment, which though higher now than in 2007, are far better than 10 years ago. Housing solutions have improved; more persons have access to drinking water, electricity (legally) and flushable toilettes. Furthermore, although households have increased in absolute numbers, there are fewer persons living in them.

This could simply mean that more persons are getting their own houses, thus reducing the crowding. However, it could also indicate that people are simply having fewer children. Still, with only 3.04 persons living in each house, as compared with 3.5 in 2001 and 3.90 in 1991, this alternative interpretation can be also be justified by the fact that the birth rate is now 17.4, compared to the significantly higher 24.2 in 2001. In my view, it is a combination of both.

This reduction in household size might also challenge the 'mother-who-fathers' groups who are fixated on the notion that most Jamaican men are deadbeat dads. It should be noted that other studies have shown that female-headed households are not the majority, although at 45 per cent, they are a very significant minority. However, they tend to be larger than the national average, and male-headed ones.

Female-headed households, according to 2002 data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica, also have a larger number of children and adult females. So, how do the growth in female-headed households and the decrease in household sizes reconcile?

It is so simple, only the biased 'agendered' propagandists can ignore it. The fact is: the increased number of women entering the labour force over the past few decades, and their enhanced employment via their outperforming males academically, have led to greater levels of independence. Therefore, more women are simply opting to procure their own dwellings or delay or forgo residential unions and child-rearing. It is not, therefore, surprising that single-female households, hidden in the data, will change both the size of households, in general, and female-headed ones, in particular. By the way, none of this means increased male marginality or irresponsibility.

Indeed, as inconvenient as it sounds, UNICEF reported a few years ago that "about half of all children under the age of six live with their fathers and ... four out of five fathers support their children [of all ages] financially". Furthermore, around 65 per cent of children "have both biological parents performing the chief parenting role - even if both parents do not live in the same household".

Traditional religion failing?

And the non-traditional religions have moved on to great ascendancy. In the 2001 census, the Seventh-day Adventists were the most numerous group, with a membership/affiliation of around 264,000. Increasing their stranglehold on salvation-seekers, affiliation is now 322,228, a 14 per cent increase. However, most important, now 11 per cent of Jamaicans, including the governor general, are Adventists. They must be doing something right. Also reaching the masses, although, I suspect, mostly women and testosterone-depleted men, are the Pentecostals, with 295,195 members, the Other Churches of God with 246,838, and the Church of God and Church of God of Prophecy.

Notably, Rastafari has seen an increase in those who 'sight' up, moving from 24,000 to 29,000. This represents a 21 per cent increase, while, antithetically, the Pope has lost more than 9,000 members - a decrease of almost 14 per cent. Muslims have increased by 500 members, an almost 50 per cent growth.

And not spared are the Baptists, whose international leader is a Jamaican cleric, and whose intellectual pastors engage public scholarship and debates. Somehow, however, they have seen a loss of 8,000, or four per cent, of their membership, thus apparently failing at their fundamental task. As religious as we say we are, around 20 per cent of Jamaicans were not aligned with any religious group. Many are seeking a new God, but many don't care.

On the whole, the findings are not surprising. Let's await the Survey of Living Conditions.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.