Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the regions that was most affected demographically by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Demographic Observatory 2022 of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), an annual publication by the organization which, in this new edition, stresses the urgency of strengthening national statistical systems and calculating good quality population estimates and projections for public policy assessments and planning.
The Demographic Observatory 2022: Demographic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic presents population estimates and projections produced by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE)-Population Division of ECLAC in conjunction with the United Nations Population Division – work that is complemented with technical advice to the national statistics institutes of the region’s countries for the production of their own population estimates and projections.
The publication, which has existed for more than three decades, was presented at a virtual event inaugurated by José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, and Florbela Fernandes, Deputy Regional Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The document was presented by Simone Cecchini, Director of CELADE-Population Division of ECLAC, and commented upon by Jorge Bravo, Chief of Population Policies and Development at the United Nations Population Division; Joice Melo Vieira, Chair of the Latin American Population Association (ALAP); and Sandra Quijada Javer, National Director of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) of Chile.
“To prepare public policies that contribute to transforming the development model with a focus on production, inclusion and sustainability, it is important to know not only how many of us there are, but also characteristics such as sex, age, geographic location and ethno-racial status, among others,” José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, affirmed during the presentation of the document.
He emphasized that, despite the adversities of the pandemic, various countries in the region managed to prepare their vital statistics on deaths and births in a timely way, which enabled estimates to be made regarding the pandemic’s impact on mortality and its consequences for population dynamics. However, not all countries had the capacity for this, and the available information poses some challenges in relation to its completeness and accuracy, ECLAC’s highest authority warned.
“This shows the need to continue working to improve vital statistics at the national and subnational level, so that country authorities can make decisions based on timely, high-quality information. We need information that is ever more accurate and disaggregated, which means it is essential to invest in vital statistics, the importance of which has been exposed by the pandemic,” he stated.
Florbela Fernandes, UNFPA’s Deputy Regional Director, meanwhile, emphasized that the full enjoyment of human rights entails leaving no one behind and recalled that there are no reasons linked to gender, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, sexual orientation or disability that could be considered obstacles to the full guarantee and enjoyment of all people’s rights.
“Now that the population has reached 8 billion inhabitants, it is important to highlight that people are the solution, not the problem. And with 8 billion, we see 8 billion opportunities, and that is why we advocate for measuring and anticipating demographic changes to be better prepared for the consequences that arise,” she sustained.
The publication indicates that Latin America and the Caribbean’s population rose from 168.3 million inhabitants in 1950 to 660.3 million people in 2022, a figure that represents 8.3% of the global population.
The ongoing decline in population growth, caused mainly by falling fertility rates, will lead the region to reach its maximum population in 2056, with a total of 751.9 million people.
The document indicates that in the current decade, a decline in the number of inhabitants under the age of 30 is projected, along with positive growth in the adult population in the region, especially among people aged 50 and over. If the assumptions of the population projections are borne out, by the end of this century the only population group that will continue to grow at the regional level is people aged 80 and over.
The analysis confirms that the region lost 2.9 years of life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2021, falling from 75.1 years in 2019 to 72.2 years in 2021, which makes Latin America and the Caribbean the region of the world that lost the most years of life expectancy due to the pandemic. The biggest decline between 2019 and 2021 was in Central America (-3.6 years). The projections indicate that in 2022, these lost years in terms of life expectancy will begin to recover.
"The losses of years of life in 2020 and 2021 were larger than in any other period in the region’s recent history. Projections point to a recovery in 2022, but at different rates in different countries owing to differences in vaccination processes and in measures to combat the pandemic. However, life expectancy at birth will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025," the document states.
The projections indicate that the region’s total fertility rate will continue to fall, reaching 1.68 children per woman in 2100, with an increase in the mean age at childbearing. The mean age at childbearing in the region followed a downward trend between 1950 and 2000. Starting in 2013, the average began to rise and it currently stands at 27.6 years, signaling that low fertility is accompanied by more women having children at older ages.
With regard to the birth rate for adolescents, the pace of the decline has accelerated in the region since 2010, with the average rate falling from 73.1 children per 1,000 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2010 to 52.1 in 2022. However, despite the reduction seen in the last decade, Latin America and the Caribbean still has some of the highest adolescent birth rates in the world, exceeded only by the estimated and projected rates for Africa. In 2022, 9 countries in the region will be among the 60 countries with the highest adolescent birth rates in the world.
The Demographic Observatory 2022 also analyzes the dynamics of intraregional migration and reveals that the flow of Venezuelan migrants to countries in the region such as Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil is unprecedented in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of intensity. It specifies that the outflow of people from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela started around 2016, when 283,300 people left the country, and peaked in 2018, when the country lost around 1.4 million inhabitants to migration. However, with the border closures following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that movement slowed and the projections suggest there will be a gradual return to the country from 2022 onward.
Finally, the document notes that the pandemic has highlighted the need for robust and timely systems to gather and disseminate population data, disaggregated, at least at the subnational level, by age, sex and cause of death. Countries that have systems to rapidly compile and process high-quality information have had better tools with which to track the spread of the coronavirus disease and have been better positioned to establish their action plans.