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  HOME | Caribbean

Marriage, Birth Rates Declining in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – Fewer Puerto Ricans are getting married and the number of children per couple has dropped, a trend brought on by the new role of the woman and other social changes on the Caribbean island.

The latest figures available from the Health Department show that in 1999 a total of 27,255 legal marriages took place in Puerto Rico, a figure that declined to 25,236 in 2003, an erosion in the rate of marriages per 1,000 inhabitants from 9.3 to 6.5.

Births in 2003 reached 50,800, a number that fell in 2009 to 44,080, which meant that the birth rate dropped from 13.1 for each 1,000 inhabitants to less than 10.

During that period, every region on the island showed fewer births, with the most dramatic decline occurring in Greater San Juan, which had a 16 percent decrease in newborn babies.

The Health Department said in a study of demographic changes on the Caribbean island that “there’s no doubt that couples are evaluating the costs a child brings with it when it is born.”

The report said that “postponement of marriage to a later age is delaying and diminishing reproduction and the number of births” in the U.S. commonwealth.

Demographer Raul Figueroa told Efe on Friday that the drop in the number of married couples and in the number of children per couple is explained by the changing role women play in Puerto Rican society.

“The woman works more and is much better educated, which encourages her to delay getting married until after 30,” he said.

Also to be considered is that nowadays, in many cases, there are “informal unions” that are not reflected in official statistics.

“Informal unions have increased in recent years, but they are never reflected officially,” the expert said.

With regard to births, he said that the trend is intimately related to the reduction in marriages, which, he said, is justified by the new role assumed by the woman as a worker outside the home.

Figueroa said that it is also evident that the deep recession the island is going through – for the fourth consecutive year – makes couples evaluate very carefully the number of children they want to have.

The slump is the reason that between 2000 and 2007 a total of 190,000 Puerto Ricans, mostly young professionals, left the island, a phenomenon that has obviously diminished the birth rate.

Eighty percent of university students in Puerto Rico are women, whose dedication to their studies means they remain single longer, up to ages that just a few years ago were unthinkable in Puerto Rican society.

These matrimonial and reproduction trends are the big reasons for the drop of 52,000 inhabitants that is expected to be seen in this year’s U.S. Census, which will leave the island with a population of approximately 3.75 million, according to the demographer’s estimates.

Loss of some federal funding, an aging population and the squeeze on retirement plans are some of the consequences of the demographic changes that Puerto Rico is experiencing. EFE

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