73 Latin America and the Caribbean (LACAR): Population Geography I – Total Fertility in the Caribbean

The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the average number of births that a woman bears over her lifetime. This is an important demographic statistic, for it anticipates how sufficiently a population will replace one generation after another.

Clearly, to replace a generation a woman needs to have at least two children, conceptually a boy and a girl.  Of course, not every woman needs to give birth to both a boy and a girl, for over a large population the numbers of each sex average out, so that a total fertility rate of 2.0 will produce roughly one boy and one girl for each woman and man.  As you will read about the sex ratio in this textbook, you also will understand that there actually are more boys born than girls born; therefore, a total fertility rate of 2.0 in reality will produce more boys than girls.

Additionally, some children will die before reaching adulthood and before producing their own offspring.  A few more of these dying children will be boys relative to girls. So, to compensate for the loss of these small numbers of deaths, the replacement figure used in demography is 2.1. There need to be 2.1 children born to one generation of women (and men) in order for that new generation to replace the previous generation numerically.

As you read about the Demographic Transition in this textbook, you learn that birth rates (births per thousand people per year) and the statistically correlated total fertility rates begin to decline in Stage 2.  Numbers of births and the corresponding statistics show a general decline for the remainder of the Demographic Transition.  There are many significant causes for this decline, but principally these factors are greater food supply and better medical care that together boost child survival rates, as well as lower demand for children in the settings of the modern industrial world.

In the Caribbean, we find low figures for total fertility.  These Caribbean islands indeed have benefitted from advances in modern medicine and stable availability of food supply.  Significantly because of tourism, the islands have gained in wealth and average income.  Thus, for the same reasons as elsewhere across the globe, it makes sense that the islands should have somewhat lower rates of fertility.  Nevertheless, there is one additional factor that directly affects the fertility on Caribbean islands.  These islands are islands!  Indeed, many of the islands are small islands.  The space for large families is limited because the area of the islands is inherently limited.


Photograph at the 2019 Cariwest Parade at the Caribbean Arts Festival.
2019 Cariwest Parade – Caribbean Arts Festival – Photo by Sangudo on Flickr.

Of course, there are small islands all across the world.  Yes, we can see this demographic trend across the world too.  Let’s look at the numbers, according to the CIA Factbook’s estimates for 2020 for 228 countries and territories.

Among these countries and territories, the lowest total fertility is found on five islands.  The city-State of Singapore is has the lowest total fertility in the world. Similarly densely crowded urban territories of Macau and Hong Kong follow closely.  The highly urban and also Asian country of Taiwan has remarkably low fertility for a decent-sized island country.




Island Fertility

Rank Country Total Fertility
#228 Singapore 0.87
#227 Macau 0.96
#226 Taiwan 1.14
#225 Hong Kong 1.21
Caribbean Islands
#224 Puerto Rico 1.26
#220 Montserrat 1.36
#181 St. Barts 1.64
#178 Barbados 1.68
#175 Turks and Caicos 1.7
#174 Trinidad 1.7
#169 Cuba 1.71
#166 Mauritius 1.73
#161 Anguilla 1.74
#158 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 1.76
#155 St. Kitts and Nevis 1.77
#150 St. Martin 1.81
#144 Cayman Islands 1.83
#143 Aruba 1.83
#128 Bermuda 1.91
#126 Bahamas 1.92
#116 Grenada 1.96
#114 Antigua and Barbuda 1.97
#113 Curacao 2
#111 Sint Maarten 2.02
#110 Dominica 2.02
#109 U. S. Virgin Islands 2.03
#103 Jamaica 2.07
#89 Dominican Republic 2.24
#72 Haiti 2.52


Next is the American territory of Puerto Rico with a total fertility rate of 1.26, obviously much lower than the standard replacement rate of 2.1.  The rest of the table below does not list all island countries/territories with low fertility (such as #205 Malta at 1.49), but does enumerate qualifying Caribbean islands. Note that the only Caribbean countries not having below replacement fertility are Haiti and the Dominican Republic, adjacent countries sharing one island – Hispaniola.  Perhaps this presence above replacement is partly due to their respective larger areas; however, other island in the Greater Antilles – Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico – do not share their higher numbers.  In fact, Puerto Rico has precisely half the total fertility of Haiti.  Instead it would seem that Haiti’s failure to join even the most prosperity common throughout the Caribbean prompts parents there to continue to view larger families as necessary to seek economic advantages.


Did You Know?

At the other end of the list, Niger leads the world with a total fertility rate of 7.0. In fact, it is the only country with a total fertility rate of greater than 6.0.  In comparison, TFR for the United States is 1.84.

The wild card in the discussion of total fertility rate is migration.  Population loss or gain from fertility can be offset or enhanced by migration flows.


Cited and additional bibliography:

“Country Comparison :: Total Fertility Rate — The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency.” 2020. Cia.Gov. 2020. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/356rank.html.

Sangudo. 2019. 2019 Cariwest Parade – Caribbean Arts Festival. https://tinyurl.com/CariWest. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


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The Western World: Daily Readings on Geography Copyright © 2020 by Joel Quam and Scott Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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