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Latin America and the Caribbean Lost Nearly 3 Years of Life Expectancy at Birth between 2019 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

27 July 2022|News

New estimates and projections by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Division confirm that the region’s population is growing at an increasingly low rate, due mainly to a decline in fertility.

Latin America and the Caribbean lost 2.9 years of life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2021 due to COVID-19, going from 75.1 years in 2019 to 72.1 years in 2021, which means this region of the world lost more years in terms of life expectancy due to the pandemic than any other, according to an analysis of recent population trends in the region carried out by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The organization indicates that the decline between 2019 and 2021 was greatest in Central America, with a loss of 3.6 years, although the figures point to an acceleration in the loss of life expectancy in the Caribbean in 2021, as well as significant inequalities between countries.

The projections assume that by 2022, a recovery in the years of life expectancy lost will have begun, due to the vaccination process and the measures that countries have taken to combat the pandemic.

The estimates and projections on recent population trends in Latin America and the Caribbean were produced by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE) – Population Division of ECLAC, in conjunction with the United Nations Population Division, and they were released on July 11, 2022, which marks World Population Day.

According to this analysis, the region’s population grew from 168.3 million people in 1950 to just over 660 million in 2022, and it is expected to start declining in approximately 34 years from now.

The region went from average annual growth of 4.5 million people between 1950 and 1951 to a peak of around 8.3 million at the start of the 1990s. As of 1991, the region’s population growth began to slow, and the population is currently expanding at a pace of less than 5 million people per year.

This increasingly slow growth in population, which stems mainly from a decline in fertility, will lead the region to reach its maximum population in 2056, with a total of 751.9 million people, the analysis indicates, which flags a disruption in the region’s growth trend in 2020 and 2021, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study also points to the population’s ageing and an approaching end to the demographic dividend. It notes that the region is in a relatively accelerated stage of ageing and projects that by 2047, the population of people 60 years and older will be greater than that of people under 15. It is estimated that in 1967, the region’s dependency ratio began to decline, marking the start of the demographic dividend; however, it is projected that in 2029, the dependent population (those under 15 and 65 and over) will grow more than the working-age population (from 15 to 64 years of age), which points to an increase in the dependency ratio and the end of the demographic dividend in the region, which will have lasted around 62 years. However, the regional situation is heterogeneous, with distinct paces of ageing.

The analysis adds that fertility has fallen to below replacement levels and the mean age of childbearing has continued to increase. The Global Fertility Rate (GFR) of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022 is estimated at 1.85 live births per woman over a lifetime, a figure that has been below the replacement level since 2015. The projection of the region’s GFR indicates that it will continue to decline, reaching 1.68 by 2100.

The mean age of childbearing marked a downward trend in the region between 1950 and 2000 due to the decline in the number of children per woman, recording its lowest value in 2000 at 26.9 years of age. As of 2013, it began to increase and currently stands at 27.6 years, which indicates that low fertility is accompanied by more women having children at a later age. According to the projections, this trend is expected to continue and the mean age is seen reaching 30.4 years in 2100.

With regard to fertility in adolescents aged 15 to 19, the estimates and projections show that Latin America and the Caribbean has among the highest rates in the world, lagging only the estimated and projected rates for Africa. Despite this, the region on average has managed to accelerate the pace of decline in adolescent fertility since 2010, going from 73.1 children for every 1000 women aged 15-19 in 2010, to 52.1 in 2022. Nonetheless, this continues to be a high figure compared with other regions in the world, and it is 48% greater than the global average. Nine countries in the region were among the 60 countries with the greatest rate of adolescent fertility in the world in 2015-2020.

Finally, the analysis addresses the growing importance of intraregional migration and warns that one of the main challenges for studying migration is the availability of data sources that give information on migration patterns and flows and the migrant population’s characteristics.

It notes that Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized as being a region that expels population, having had a negative migratory balance (negative net migration) from 1950 to date. In this regard, and despite the difficulties for population movement during the pandemic, mainly due to border closures, the region still had negative migratory balances in 2020 and 2021, although they were smaller than what was estimated for 2019.

The dynamism with which demographic changes take place in the region – especially the decline in fertility and migratory movements, and recently the impact of COVID-19 – has led ECLAC, in conjunction with the United Nations Population Division, to constantly monitor and revise population estimates and projections. Only with timely, quality information is it possible to produce population estimates and projections that reflect the demographic reality of countries in this region, and the world.