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Rural becoming urban

Published:Friday | November 2, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

I spent yesterday morning checking the recently published figures for the 2011 Population Census of Jamaica for internal consistency, and I have found that important numbers do not add up.

Take, for example, Table iii on Page iii of the general report, Volume I: The total population in 2001 is given as 2,607,632 (which is the same total stated in the published report of the 2001 Census); however, when you add up the total population for each of the 14 parishes, it comes to 2,395,696 - a difference of 211,936. It would appear that the totals for 10 of the parishes vary with the published data in the 2001 Census; only the figures for Kingston, St Andrew, Trelawny and Hanover agree.

Since the figures in the published 2001 census report more or less add up (the 2001 total is actually one short), we can conclude that the parish figures supplied for the 2001 census in the 2012 report are definitely incorrect.

There are other tables later in the book which compare the 2001 and 2011 census data by parish; are these erroneous parish numbers used to calculate the figures in these later tables?

Then there is Table iv on pages v and vi: Something is not quite right about the data given for Spaldings, which actually falls both in Manchester and Clarendon, but the distribution of population between the parishes looks strange. For the same reason I would also query the data given for Negril, which falls both in Westmoreland and Hanover.

I invite STATIN to consider whether these egregious errors might not warrant the withdrawal of the General Report, Volume I of the Jamaica Population and Housing Census 2011, and its replacement with a corrected volume. It is of the utmost importance that Jamaicans and the world at large have confidence in the data published by our government agencies, for all sorts of planning and development decisions are taken based on the published data.


Using what I will call the 'corrected figures', it is possible to make some interesting, if tentative, observations. Taking the mean national population increase (3.46 per cent) as the benchmark, we notice that in only four parishes is there a population increase (between 2001 and 2011) above the national average. As expected, St Catherine has the largest increase (because of big boom in housing construction there), followed by St James, Hanover and Westmoreland (all parishes with big tourism investments).

The population of the small parish of Kingston is in absolute decline, as it has been for several decades (largely because of the flight from the inner-city garrisons). All the other nine parishes grow slightly, but below the national average of 3.46 per cent. People migrate within Jamaica to where work is, and tourism seems to be the biggest game in town.

The published data allow us to calculate rural-to-urban drift. The urban population of Jamaica increased from 52.71 per cent in 2001 to 53.86 per cent in 2011 - a shift of 1.14 percentage points. But as you might expect, the shift was uneven across all parishes: in only five was there a shift above the national average; in the other eight parishes (Kingston and St Andrew are combined for purposes of analysis), the rural population actually grew faster relative to the urban population.

Urbanisation was greatest in St James (a shift by 4.85 percentage points), followed by St Catherine, St Ann and Westmoreland; Clarendon's urban population shifted only marginally. It would seem that other than for St Catherine, urban sprawl is taking place mostly in the tourism areas.


'Ruralisation' was highest - believe it or not - in the combined Kingston and St Andrew, as more and more people move into rural St Andrew. The populations of Trelawny and St Mary are also becoming more rural.

Looking at the data town by town, the largest increase in percentage terms over the 10-year intercensal period was reported for Discovery Bay, St Ann (48 per cent), Spaldings in Clarendon (36 per cent), and Negril in Westmoreland (35 per cent).

But the largest increases, in absolute terms, took place in Portmore (25,700), Spanish Town (15,600) and Montego Bay (13,600). The first two are suburbs of Greater Kingston, and Montego Bay is our second city. Even though many Jamaicans love rural life, more and more seem to prefer urban lifestyles; and it is clear that more and more rural areas are being given an urban character.

Our urban planners need to take note of this, for our already-stretched urban infrastructure (roads, sewage disposal, garbage collection) is going to come under more stress.

And at the same time, Jamaica would seem to be ripe for rural development.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and survey research specialist. Email feedback to