Group Title: Fertility decline in Cuba
Title: Fertility decline in Cuba:
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 Material Information
Title: Fertility decline in Cuba: a socioeconomic interpretation
Physical Description: p. 513-537 : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Diaz-Briquets, Sergio
Pérez, Lisandro
Donor: Helen Icken Safa ( endowment )
Publisher: Population Council
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1982
Copyright Date: 1982
Subject: Social conditions -- Cuba -- 1959-   ( lcsh )
Population -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Economic conditions -- Cuba -- 1959-1990   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Cuba
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 533-537).
Statement of Responsibility: Sergio Díaz-Briquets, Lisandro Pérez.
General Note: Reprinted from Population and Development Review.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00095186
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: oclc - 12636568

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Volume 8 Number 3
September 1982

Fertility Decline in
Cuba: A Socioeconomic

Sergio Diaz-Briquets
Lisandro Perez

1982 by the Population Council. Inc.

Fertility Decline in
Cuba: A Socioeconomic

Sergio Diaz-Briquets
Lisandro Perez

The recent decline in Cuba's fertility is one of the most
rapid declines on record. From a level of 35 births per thousand population in
1963, the crude birth rate dropped by 60 percent to a low of 14 per thousand in
1980 (Table 1). Measuring the decline over this particular time span, however,
is somewhat misleading. The year 1963 was the peak year of the Cuban baby
boom that began four years earlier and that lifted birth rates throughout the
1960s above the level that prevailed prior to 1959.' Measured from pre-baby-
boom levels, the decline in the birth rate appears less spectacular, but still

TABLE 1 Cuba: crude birth rates, 1953-80
(births per 1,000 population)
Crude Crude
Year birth rate Year birth rate
1953 28.3 1967 31.7
1954 27.6 1968 30.4
1955 27.1 1969 29.2
1956 26.2 1970 27.7
1957 25.7 1971 29.5
1958 26.1 1972 28.0
1959 27.7 1973 25.0
1960 30.1 1974 21.9
1961 32.5 1975 20.7
1962 34.3 1976 19.8
1963 35.1 1977 17.6
1964 35.0 1978 15.3
1965 34.3 1979 14.7
1966 33.1 1980 14.1
SOURCES: 1953-79: Direcci6n de Demograffa, Comitd Estatal de
Estadisticas (Reptiblica de Cuba), Anuario Demogrdfico de Cuba,
1979. Havana, 1981, Table 19, p. 67; 1980: Ministerio de Salud
Pliblica (Republica de Cuba). Irforme Anual. 1980. Havana, 1981.
Table I. p. 9.


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

exceptionally rapid. Over the two decades extending from 1958 to 1980 the
birth rate declined by 46 percent, from 26 to 14 births per thousand population.
Age-specific fertility rates in Table 2 confirm that substantial fertility
decline occurred in all age groups, albeit not uniformly. The total fertility
rate-a measure indicating the numbers of children the average woman would
bear at the prevailing level of age-specific fertility rates-declined from 3.7 in
1970 to 1.92 in 1978 and to 1.81 in 1979.

TABLE 2 Cuba: age-specific fertility rates and total
fertility rates, 1970-79 (births per 1,000 women, by
Year 15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-59 rate
1970 127.5 227.4 164.6 116.3 73.5 25.8 3.9 3.70
1971 146.5 245.7 174.7 120.3 71.1 25.6 2.8 3.93
1972 143.8 237.6 167.9 113.0 66.1 23.7 2.7 3.77
1973 134.7 208.3 146.1 97.6 56.2 21.2 3.1 3.34
1974 129.7 182.3 125.4 80.2 46.2 16.3 2.5 2.91
1975 127.1 178.3 116.1 67.3 36.6 13.4 2.2 2.70
1976 126.5 170.7 111.2 59.9 32.3 11.1 1.9 2.57
1977 103.3 155.4 96.9 53.3 28.0 9.7 1.7 2.24
1978 83.0 137.2 83.9 45.6 23.9 8.2 1.5 1.92
1979 74.5 131.8 80.2 43.7 22.4 7.6 1.4 1.81
SOURCE: Comit6 Estatal de Estadistica, in Octavio Avalos Triana Monet, "Evoluci6n
de la fecundidad en el iltimo decenio," Revista Cubana de Administracidn de Salud 7,
no. 4 (October-December 1981): Tables II and IV, pp. 413 and 415.

Thus, since 1978, fertility in Cuba has been below the level necessary in
the long run to assure the replacement of the population. No other country in
the developing world except Singapore-a country that by most standards
should be classified as developed-has attained such a distinction.2 The esti-
mated total fertility rate for 1979 is the lowest recorded for any developing
country. It is a rate comparable to or lower than that characterizing fertility in
most developed nations.
A number of features of the recent Cuban fertility experience are note-
worthy. First, the rapid fertility decline got under way from relatively low
levels, since the birth rate increase of the 1960s represented only a temporary
disturbance of a long-established downward secular trend.3 Second, the baby
boom itself, if not a unique occurrence in the developing world, was at least a
rare one. Third, contrary to the situation in China, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Sin-
gapore, and other countries undergoing rapid and significant fertility decline,
the fertility decline in Cuba took place in the absence of explicit policies to
produce that effect.4 Fourth, the fertility change occurred in a national context
of considerable social, economic, and political change. Finally, as shown in
Tables 1 and 2, the decline of fertility since 1972 has been extremely rapid.
Our objective in this paper is to offer a socioeconomic interpretation of
that fertility decline, taking into account the peculiar nature of Cuban history
since 1959, the date that marks the beginning of a revolutionary period that

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

entailed a complete revamping of the nation's social and economic structures.
Our explanation focuses largely on the analysis of the profound and dynamic
process of change experienced by Cuban society during this period; only pass-
ing reference is made to the more immediate determinants (notably nuptiality,
contraception, and abortion) through which those processes work their effect
on fertility. These "proximate determinants" have been widely discussed in the

Pre-1959 demographic trends
To understand social and demographic developments in Cuba during the last
two decades, these developments should be seen in a broader historical per-
spective. By any conventional measure, Cuba was well along in its demo-
graphic transition by 1959. Fertility levels in the late 1950s were closer to those
characterizing developed countries than to those generally found in the devel-
oping world.6 Today, in fact, most developing countries have yet to attain the
relatively low fertility levels prevailing in Cuba over 20 years ago.7 Much the
same could be said about mortality. The most reliable mortality estimate avail-
able for prerevolutionary Cuba indicates that in 1953-the last census year
before the revolution-expectation of life at birth for both sexes combined was
58.8 years; in 1960, immediately after the revolutionary takeover, it was esti-
mated to have reached 64 years.8 Even today, comparable life expectancy lev-
els have been reached in relatively few developing countries, mostly in Latin
America and East and Southeast Asia.
Why had prerevolutionary Cuba attained such an advanced demographic
regime? This question, while critical to the understanding of developments
over the last two decades-demographic or otherwise-has rarely been raised,
let alone answered. It is clear that some factors often cited in explaining con-
temporary fertility declines in other developing countries are not part of the
answer. The moderately low fertility levels prevailing in Cuba by the late 1950s
were reached before modern contraceptive methods, such as the pill and the
IUD, were available. Also, Cuban fertility had declined gradually over a pe-
riod of several decades in the absence of any organized programs to provide
family planning information and contraceptive supplies.
The most obvious explanation for the fact that many Cuban women or
couples had acquired the motivation and ability to limit their fertility is that
Cuba, despite frequent allegations to the contrary, had attained a substantial
level of modernization, or that, at the least, a very considerable proportion of
its population had done so. As we have stated elsewhere,

by comparison to other developing countries, Cuba had relatively high levels of
income and consumption, fairly advanced medical and sanitary standards, a
comparatively well developed system of education and other social facilities, a
high proportion of persons of European origin, a fairly irreligious and urbanized
population . and a significant middle class. The rather large middle class had,
or aspired to, high levels of material consumption, thanks to the country's rela-
tive development and the profound influence that US lifestyles exerted over


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

Cuban society, and equally important, over the aspirational levels of the lower

This assessment, while accepted by many students of Cuba, differs from the
often-painted picture of prerevolutionary Cuba as a country mired in economic
backwardness where a vast majority of the population existed at the very mar-
gin of survival.
How preferences for low fertility were translated into actual behavior is
not entirely clear and certainly cannot be investigated statistically. Abortion
and, perhaps to a lesser degree, contraception, were probably the most impor-
tant mechanisms involved. Although in theory illegal, abortions were widely
and openly available.10 Contraceptives such as the diaphragm and the condom
were used, and many women were sterilized for contraceptive purposes, usu-
ally following childbirth. Because of statistical shortcomings, compounded by
the high prevalence of consensual unions, the role, if any, of changes in age at
marriage and in the proportion of women in reproductive unions in lowering
fertility cannot be ascertained.
One notable characteristic of fertility levels just before the revolution
was that fertility was low not only in the province of Havana, comprising the
country's capital city, but also in the relatively modernized central provinces of
Matanzas and Las Villas, and to a lesser extent in Camagiey. Only in the more
backward and rural provinces of Pinar del Rio and Oriente, accounting for
approximately 38 percent of the population in 1953, were birth rates still rela-
tively high in 1958." From the provincial birth rate differentials it is obvious
that low to moderately low fertility was not exclusively an urban phenomenon,
although it is safe to assume that within each province fertility was lower in
urban than in rural areas. Indeed, in provinces with high birth rates, low fertil-
ity was in all likelihood limited to cities.
Persons who were medical doctors in prerevolutionary Cuba report that
in at least some cities of these provinces abortion was commonly performed in
health establishments and by private practitioners.12 That some sort of family
limitation was practiced in the high birth rate provinces is also clear from the
levels of the rates: although high by Cuban standards of the time, they were
well below what would be expected in the absence of deliberate birth control
practice by couples.
The historical background sketched in the preceding paragraphs contra-
dicts those who (even when they take note of the secular trend established
earlier) tend to view recent fertility changes in Cuba as resulting exclusively
from the particular political and socioeconomic transformation that took place
in that country following 1959. Indeed, it can be asserted with confidence that
even in the absence of the revolution and the structural changes it produced,
fertility would have continued to decline. Fertility, after all, continued to de-
cline or began its secular trend of decline in other Latin American countries,
such as Chile and Costa Rica, that in the late 1950s resembled Cuba in terms of
a variety of social, economic, and demographic indicators. At that time, fertil-
ity in Chile, although still higher than that in Cuba, had been declining for


Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

some years. Fertility in Costa Rica had yet to begin its transition. Significant
fertility declines have since taken place in both countries.13
Fertility declines in Latin America and in other regions of the developing
world have been largely the product of a variety of social, economic, techno-
logical, and programmatic developments that have affected, if unequally, all
parts of the globe. They include dramatic improvements in communication that
have facilitated the flow of ideas and information from country to country, the
increasing legitimacy of fertility regulation as an individual right, significant
increases in levels of educational attainment, the spread of urbanization and
industrialization, the development of highly effective, convenient, and inex-
pensive contraceptive methods, and the emergence of national and interna-
tional population programs. Cuba, even in the absence of the revolution, would
have been unlikely to remain untouched by these developments. Indeed,
viewed from both historical and cross-national perspectives, it is the high fertil-
ity levels of the 1960s-the Cuban baby boom-that constitute the anomaly.
Here the revolution comes into play, for it created social and economic
conditions that not only raised the birth rate in the 1960s but appear to have
contributed to its precipitous decline in the 1970s, especially after 1972. In the
remainder of this paper we attempt to explain how postrevolutionary social and
economic conditions affected Cuban fertility. Our discussion focuses primarily
on the recent fertility decline, but that phenomenon cannot be understood sepa-
rately from the baby boom of the 1960s, since the decline would not have been
as precipitous without the baby boom. As we shall argue, an understanding of
the determinants of the boom helps to explain the extent and speed of the
decline. We start, therefore, with an examination of the Cuban baby boom.

The baby boom: fertility during the 1960s
Broad descriptions of some of the factors determining the sharp, if temporary,
fertility increase in Cuba during the 1960s have been provided by various in-
vestigators.14 These descriptions suggest that during the early years of the revo-
lution the enactment of a series of social and economic measures led to a
radical shift in income distribution. A greater proportion of the national income
accrued to the lower income groups, who as a consequence saw their living
standards rise and their prospects for the future brighten. Under these condi-
tions marriage rates rose, births formerly postponed may have been made up,
and it is likely that at least in some segments of the population, desired family
size rose as couples came to feel that they could afford to have more children.'"
Also contributing to the fertility increase were the rigorous enforcement of
previously ignored statutes against abortion and a shortage of contraceptive
supplies caused by the US economic blockade.16
According to the common interpretation of these changes, fertility rose
in Cuba largely because of a general feeling of "euphoria" that engulfed the
country after the revolution,17 and this effect was reinforced by the decreased
availability of abortion and contraception. Most analysts have focused on the
objective changes that induced those euphoric feelings, putting little emphasis


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

on the subjective perceptions that fomented such optimism. It is our contention
that the interplay of objective and subjective elements goes a long way toward
explaining the time pattern of fertility change in postrevolutionary Cuba over
the last two decades. We seek to take into account both of these elements in
discussing what we see as the seven most significant factors responsible for the
Cuban baby boom. After describing these factors, we offer an integrated expla-
nation of the increase in fertility during the early years of the revolution.

Income redistribution measures

Income redistribution was effected through some of the best known and most
consequential economic measures implemented by the new Cuban regime.
Most important were the agrarian reforms that transformed large privately
owned landholdings into cooperatives and state farms, or distributed them to
peasants as smaller but viable landholdings; urban reforms that drastically cut
rents and promised eventual home ownership; reductions in the rates charged
for utilities, notably for electricity, water, and telephone service; measures that
caused large-scale emigration (to be treated separately under that heading); and
other measures leading to increased employment.
The redistribution of income resulting from these measures was substan-
tial, involving transfers largely from high- to low-income groups, but also
benefiting a broad segment of middle-income groups. A recent attempt to
measure these distributional changes (Table 3) indicates that the portion of total
income accruing to the poorest 40 percent of the population rose from 6.2
percent in 1953 (the year of the last prerevolutionary census) to about 20 per-
cent in the early 1960s. Most of this change can be presumed to have occurred
since 1959.18

TABLE 3 Cuba: estimated distribution of income, 1953,
1960, 1962, and 1973 (percent of total income ranked
by per capital income)
quintiles" 1953 1960 1962 1973
0-20 2.1 8.0 6.2 7.8
20-40 4.1 12.5 11.0 12.5
40-60 11.0 14.5 16.3 19.2
60-80 22.8 17.0 25.1 25.5
80-100 60.0 48.0 41.4 35.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
aIncome quintiles are ranked from lowest to highest.
SOURCE: Brundenius, cited in note 18, Table 12, p. 43. Original figures for 1962 are
revised in Brundenius, "Growth with equity: The Cuban experience (1959-1980),"
World Development 9, no. 11/12 (1981): Table 6.

Three important points should be noted concerning Table 3. First, the
figures on income distribution tend to understate the true magnitude of re-
distribution because these data do not include the provision of health, educa-


Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

tional, and other services that after 1959 were greatly expanded. Since access
to these services is not dependent on the level of per capital (or family) income,
the formerly less privileged social groups have benefited disproportionately
from this change. Second, the income distribution figures do not convey the
change in the volume of income that has been redistributed. There is reason to
believe that in the first few years following the revolution gross domestic prod-
uct grew appreciably, in contrast to the mid-1960s when it may have declined
in absolute size. (The performance of the Cuban economy over the past two
decades will be discussed later in this paper.) Third, the share of total income
accruing to the lowest income groups, after increasing during the first few
years of the revolution, did not grow further in later years. From 1962 to 1973
the pattern of income distribution remained stable. What is critical to note at
this point is that there was indeed a massive shift of income away from the
higher and toward the lower and middle income groups during the first few
years following the revolution.

Social reform
Social reform-in health, education, and other welfare areas-got under way
within the first months following the revolutionary takeover and gradually
gained momentum. The principal thrust was aimed at eliminating past social
and regional differentials in access to basic social services, in particular be-
tween the cities, especially Havana, and the rural regions of the country. Some
of the most notable achievements of the Cuban revolution have been realized in
the areas of health and education.9 The initiation of reforms and the commit-
ment on the part of the revolutionary leadership during the early 1960s to up-
grade basic social services and to place them within the reach of all the
population must have contributed significantly to the feelings of optimism of
the Cuban population at the time.

Early economic performance
Partly induced by the redistributive policies but also facilitated by many other
factors, during the immediate postrevolutionary period and especially in the
first 18 months, Cuban economic performance was remarkably strong.2o Ritter
has provided an excellent review of the main reasons for this strong showing.
Aggregate demand rose in response to the income redistribution measures, and
this led to the fuller use of formerly idle resources in land, labor, and industrial
plant. Other contributing factors were an expansion in government spending,
the coming on line of new productive facilities built in the years just before the
revolution, and the early favorable performance of the agricultural sector. Cer-
tain disinvestments-necessarily temporary-that took place as domestic and
imported inventories were rapidly depleted contributed to economic buoy-
ancy.2' The combined effect of these factors contributed to the early optimism
shared by the people and the revolutionary leadership concerning the state of
the economy and its prospects.


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

Job creation
The income redistribution policies, the favorable performance of the economy,
and the expansion of social services gave rise to an increase in the demand for
labor. As a result of the land reforms, the agricultural sector absorbed more
workers, particularly those who at times of slack agricultural activities had
constituted a pool of surplus labor. In addition, the revolutionary government,
in its attempts to improve the living conditions of the poorest sectors of society
and in fulfillment of social commitments, initiated a program of public works
that had as its principal goal the reduction of unemployment. Job security and
year-round employment were essential components of these programs, espe-
cially since the Cuban economy had traditionally been subject to marked sea-
sonal fluctuations in labor demand, not only in agriculture but also in certain
segments of the urban labor market. Two other important factors leading to
employment growth were the increasing militarization of the country and the
growth of the state bureaucracy. Within a brief period the armed forces, includ-
ing the national militia, grew rapidly. Meanwhile, the size of the state bureauc-
racy increased by leaps and bounds, as the private sector began to be
nationalized and the former market economy was gradually transformed into a
centrally planned economy. In brief, within a very short period of time there
was a remarkable increase in labor utilization, although, as time would prove,
at substantial long-term economic costs.

The income redistribution policy and the increasingly nonpluralistic, radical,
and dogmatic course of the revolution precipitated the emigration of over
200,000 Cubans between 1959 and 1963.22 The detrimental consequences of
this emigration, which deprived the country of many of its former intellectual
and technical elite, have been repeatedly noted; so have some of its favorable
effects for the course of the revolution, notably the fact that the departure of
ideologically hostile elements facilitated the establishment of the new social
system. Largely ignored have been other consequences of this emigration.
Over the years it has helped ease pressures in the labor market. Although pro-
ducing shortages of skilled labor in the short run, emigration created employ-
ment opportunities, which in turn may have contributed to the optimism
concerning economic prospects and, indirectly, to the rise in fertility.

Social mobility
The rapid process of social change sweeping Cuba during the early 1960s was a
classic example of Pareto's "circulation of the elites." An entrenched social
class was dislodged from power and replaced within a matter of months by a
new group of people, of predominantly middle-class origin. The changes at the
top of the social hierarchy were sweeping since they touched practically every
national institution whether political or economic. The old armed forces ceased
to be, as new revolutionary armed forces were created. Political power passed
not just into new hands, but also to a much younger generation. The national-

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

ization of the private business sector, both national and foreign, swept an entire
class out of power. Massive emigration occurred. The end result of these de-
velopments was a broad-based process of social mobility as the slots vacated
by the former elite were filled by other members of society who previously
ranked lower in the social, economic, and political hierarchy. The expansion of
the bureaucracy and the military gave added momentum to this process.
The repercussions of the change at the top filtered down to all levels of
society: those experiencing upward mobility were vacating slots that others
could now occupy. Equally important, the ongoing process of social mobility
had a powerful demonstration effect. It suggested even to those not directly
benefiting from it that social mobility was possible-indeed had been experi-
enced by many of their relatives, friends, and acquaintances who now occupied
posts, had responsibilities, and enjoyed privileges (e.g., access to housing va-
cated by emigrants) undreamed of a few years earlier.

Perceptions of long-term economic prospects
An almost unbelievable naivete in judging the true difficulty of sustained eco-
nomic development-characteristic of the more optimistic world of 20 years
ago, but carried to excess by Cuba's revolutionary leadership-imbued the
Cuban population with wholly unrealistic expectations as to the country's
longer term economic prospects. These perceptions, fueled by the early eco-
nomic successes and articulated in many official pronouncements of the new
leaders, reflected certain misconceptions that were an integral part of the young
revolution's popular political lore. In brief, it was believed that Cuba was a
country abundantly endowed with natural resources, a country that prior to the
revolution was held back in its development by corrupt government officials,
by an economic system that kept the country's rich patrimony in the hands of
the privileged few, and by the exploitation of national resources by foreign
powers, mainly the United States. Once these conditions were changed, it was
assumed Cuba would bloom economically.23
Time and economic realities proved the shallowness of these beliefs. But
the effects of the many promises of material prosperity on the unsophisticated
populace were real. The objective improvements in living conditions that oc-
curred in the early stages of revolutionary change lent credibility to these prom-
ises. The future painted by the leadership and echoed by the media during the
first years of the revolution seemed bountiful indeed.
The flavor of what was promised can best be conveyed by citing some
examples of public statements made by responsible and influential government
officials at that time. Emesto Guevara, one of the most charismatic leaders of
the revolution in its earliest years and one of the architects of Cuba's initial
strategy of economic development, predicted as chairman of the Cuban delega-
tion at the Fifth Plenary Session of the Organization of American States in
Punta del Este, Uruguay, on 8 August 1961, that by 1980 Cuba would have
achieved "a per capital net income of $3,000 . a diversification of the econ-
omy and elimination of 40 percent of the present housing deficit." He also
predicted that "over these two decades the general growth rate [of the econ-


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

omy] will be 12 percent, [and] in the industrial field Cuba will be transformed
into the most highly industrialized country of Latin America in relation to its
population." 24
That same month, during the First National Production meeting in
Havana, Regino Boti, then Economic Minister, was promising that by 1965 the
Cuban per capital consumption of clothing and shoes would be higher than in
Sweden, Norway, and Belgium, and that Cuba would be the leader among
Latin American countries in the per capital consumption of electric energy,
steel, cement, tractors and refined petroleum. By about 1970, he continued,
Cuba "would have the highest level of living in Latin America by a wide
margin, as high as that of most countries of Western Europe." Guevara's prom-
ises in Uruguay were also repeated by Boti in Havana.25
Fidel Castro himself, although generally more cautious, made state-
ments expressing similar hopes for the future. For instance, on various occa-
sions in 1960, he promised that the new neighborhoods being planned for
workers would be as fine, and the dwellings as good, as those in Miramar, one
of the more expensive upper middle class areas in Havana.26 The workers were
assured that they would have access to appliances and other goods commensu-
rate with such residences.
These promises, by all evidence actually believed by the leadership mak-
ing them, were widely discussed in the mass media and accepted as a matter of
faith by most Cubans. They reinforced the perceptions of economic improve-
ments, portending a prosperous economic future.

Causes of the Cuban baby boom
The developments discussed in the preceding sections provide a framework
that, we contend, helps explain the Cuban baby boom. By the time of the
revolution, Cuba had already attained fertility levels comparable to those ob-
served in the then developed nations. Therefore, there was considerable scope
for a rise in fertility. Our review suggests that the birth rate increase was the
product of conditions, real and perceived, that led young adults to foresee a
much more promising future, free from many of the uncertainties and con-
straints of a backward and dependent economy. In the new social and eco-
nomic order many of these young adults, particularly in urban areas, were
confident that they would be able to satisfy their material and social aspira-
tions. These aspirations were developed in line with prerevolutionary con-
sumption patterns of the Cuban middle and upper classes to which the Cuban
masses had ample exposure; consumption patterns that, in turn, were shaped
by the example of the rich, consumption-oriented neighbor to the north, with
whom Cuba had very close economic and cultural ties until the late 1950s.
Marriage rates, noted universally for their responsiveness to short-term eco-
nomic fluctuations, responded in the expected way, more than doubling be-
tween 1959 and 1961.27 Childbearing among newly established couples soon
followed, and it is likely that births formerly postponed by earlier-established
unions were made up. Also contributing to the increase in the birth rate was an

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

involuntary reduction in the incidence of abortion and the practice of con-

The baby bust: fertility during the 1970s
Consistent with our explanation of the causes of the Cuban baby boom, we
view the post-baby-boom Cuban fertility trend as resulting from a complex set
of factors that comprise both objective and subjective elements. In particular,
the following discussion of that trend goes beyond the traditional "moderniza-
tion" explanation (the first factor we examine) to arrive at a more comprehen-
sive interpretation of the decline of fertility in Cuba during the 1970s.
We regard the following socioeconomic conditions as the basic factors
underlying the rapid fertility decline of the 1970s: (1) socioeconomic reforms
and modernization efforts; (2) a severe housing shortage; (3) a return of eco-
nomic differentiation; (4) uneven economic performance; (5) low levels of con-
sumption; (6) a low or negative economic value of children; and (7) the
realistic and pessimistic assessments of economic prospects made by the lead-
ers. We discuss each of these factors below, in addition to another factor that,
although it cannot be considered an underlying socioeconomic condition, must
nevertheless be included as an important contributor to the fertility decline: the
increasing availability of abortion and contraception during the 1970s.

Socioeconomic reforms and modernization efforts
By the 1970s the social reforms discussed earlier-especially in education and
health-had produced a generation that was entering the reproductive ages
with relatively high levels of "modernity" as measured, for example, by the
level of educational attainment.
To appreciate the changes brought about by the socioeconomic reforms,
the prerevolutionary socioeconomic differentials should be kept in mind.
While members of the upper social strata in prerevolutionary Cuba undoubt-
edly held modern values and enjoyed modern lifestyles, the social and eco-
nomic inequalities of the prerevolutionary system, especially in terms of
education, meant that other segments of the population-especially the rural
poor-were little exposed to modern values and behavioral norms. The re-
forms instituted in the early 1960s that established a universal system of secular
education diffused these values and norms among the members of the formerly
underprivileged social strata, creating a generation that, in a more uniform
fashion than its predecessors, possesses characteristics of modernity usually
associated with low fertility.
Probably as significant in this area as educational and health reforms was
the spread of the official ideology with respect to the family and sex roles and
measures that reflected that ideology. While the accomplishments in this area
seldom measured up to the official pronouncements, there can be no question
that the government has succeeded in changing public attitudes concerning the
proper relations between the sexes, and that the relative social status of women

Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

has improved.28 This change in the status of women, and especially the in-
crease in the rate of female labor force participation, is likely to have had a
significant influence on lowering fertility.29
The "modernization" explanation of the Cuban fertility decline-with
emphasis on health and educational reform and changes in women's roles and
status-predominates in the literature. Without questioning its validity, we
argue that it is incomplete. That the modernization argument can only partially
explain the fertility decline is suggested by cross-national comparisons of rele-
vant socioeconomic and fertility indicators: Table 4 presents data for Cuba and
three Caribbean and Central American countries with socioeconomic indicators
fairly similar to those of Cuba.

TABLE 4 Cuba and selected countries of Central America and the
Caribbean: socioeconomic and demographic indicators, latest
available data
Expectation Percent of ever-married women
of life
aof lif by highest level of education attained
at birth Total
(both Secondary Currently fertility
sexes)a Illiterate" None Primary and higher working" rate'
Cuba 72.8 4.2 53.3 46.7 39.0 1.9
Costa Rica 71.2 8.9 8.2 66.4 25.5 26.5 3.7
Jamaica 70 n.a. 2.2 75.2 22.6 33.9 3.7
Panama 70 9.5 6.7 53.3 39.9 33.1 4.1
NOTE: Educational data for Cuba refer to all women aged 14-49 in 1979. For Costa Rica and Panama
data refer to ever-married women 20-49 years of age. Attained levels, for each of the four countries,
refer to having completed at least a year at the given level.
"Expectation of life-For Cuba projected to 1980: Dirreccion de Demografia, Comite Estatal de
Estadisticas (Reptiblica de Cuba) and Centro Latinoamericano de Demografia (CELADE), Proyecri6n de
la poblacion cubana 1950-2000. nivel national: metodologia y resultados (actualizacion en junior de
1980), mimeo, Havana, July 1980, Cuadro 18, p. 36; for Costa Rica, estimate for 1974-76: Hugo
Villegas and Carlos A. Valverde, "Life expectancy trends in Costa Rica," Bulletin of the Pan American
Health Organization 13, no. 3 (1979): Table 3, p. 256; for Jamaica and Panama: estimates in Population
Reference Bureau, 1982 World Population Data Sheet, Washington, D.C.
"Direccion de Demografia, Comite Estatal de Estadisticas (Reptiblica de Cuba), Metodologia y tablas
seleccionadas (parte I), Encuesta Demografica Nacional de 1979, Havana, April 1981, Table 20, p. 252.
'Educational attainment-For Cuba: Cuba: el descenso de la fecundidad, 1964-1978, cited in note 54,
Cuadro 11, p. 14; for the other countries: Susheela Singh, "Background characteristics used in WFS
surveys," Comparative Studies: Cross National Summaries, World Fertility Survey, London, no. 4,
March 1980, Table 5, p. 10.
"Work data-For Cuba: Direcci6n de Demografia, Comit6 Estatal de Estadisticas (Reptblica de Cuba),
La fecundidad retrospective y el deseo de tener hijos de las mujeres en union matrimonial, Encuesta
Demogrifica de Nacional 1979, Havana, June 1981, p. 33; for the other countries: Singh, cited in note c
above, Table 7.
'Population Reference Bureau, 1981 World Population Data Sheet.

The life expectancy estimates can be regarded as a crude proxy for the
availability of health services. Improvement of the health status of the popula-
tion earned the Cuban revolution much credit, although, as we noted earlier,
with respect to health prerevolutionary Cuba was better off than most other
developing nations. On this score, if allowance is made for data inconsistencies

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

and reference period differences, the four countries appear to be doing more or
less equally well. Infant mortality levels, of course, should not differ signifi-
cantly between these countries if the estimated life expectancies are valid. In
terms of educational attainment Cuba seems clearly more advanced than the
other three countries, but in each of the four, basic educational needs appear to
have been met. Illiteracy levels (not available for Jamaica), for example, are
low (particularly if it is noted that the information includes older women) and
just a few points apart. Labor force participation rates for currently married
women are higher for Cuban women, but not much higher than in Jamaica and
The Cuban total fertility rate, however, is barely half as high as the total
fertility rate in the other three countries. This difference is inexplicable from
the indicators chosen. Thus, although a process of modernization is undoubt-
edly part of the currently very low levels of Cuban fertility, an adequate expla-
nation must also involve other factors.
The key to Cuba's very low fertility, in our opinion, lies in the sharply
differing prospects of Cuban couples regarding the fulfillment of their material
and status expectations during the early 1960s, and in the years since that time.
The former period was one of optimism. The latter, reflecting the revolution's
growing inability to meet material expectations, was a period of pessimism.
Only in the light of this radical change in outlook can the rapid fertility decline
be understood. Had the generation entering reproductive ages in the 1970s been
able to fulfill their aspirations, it is unlikely fertility would have declined as fast
and to as low a level as it in fact has.
In the following sections we briefly review some of the negative eco-
nomic developments that have accompanied the process of revolutionary
change in Cuba. Our description is by no means novel. A number of econo-
mists have already analyzed these factors in detail. What we propose here is to
integrate them into an explanation of Cuba's precipitous fertility decline in the

The housing shortage
The existence of a housing problem in Cuba predates the revolution. In fact,
housing reforms were among the earliest reforms instituted by the revolution-
ary government. As part of the effort to redistribute income and eliminate class
differentials, rental properties were nationalized and the tenants, upon pay-
ments to the state, were granted ownership. A 1960 law also took note of the
country's housing deficit (then estimated to be 655,000 units) and projected a
massive construction program.30
As with other optimistic plans formulated during this period, the en-
visaged surge in housing construction failed to materialize. By 1970 the deficit
of adequate housing exceeded one million units.31 With this housing deficit in
mind, the revolutionary authorities set goals for the construction of 100,000
housing units per year by 1980. In 1980, only 15,000 housing units were fin-
ished. As a result of the low rate of housing construction during the 1970s the
deficit of adequate housing has continued to increase. It can be estimated with

Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

official housing construction figures and housing data from the 1970 census that
between 1971 and 1980 the housing deficit grew by some 50,000 units per year.
By 1980 the deficit stood at approximately 1.5 million units.32 This, despite the
emigration of 220,000 persons during the 1970s that considerably eased the
pressures on the available housing stock.
The problem is most severe in urban areas, particularly in Havana,
where the deterioration of existing housing is a major reason for the critical
need for new construction. According to Roca, "In 1978, the"administrator of
the city of Havana estimated that 250,000 dwelling units (50 percent of the
total) were in need of repair and that, of these, 30,000 were propped-up by
beams and 40,000 were declared uninhabitable."33 Numerous accounts by re-
cent visitors to Cuba have noted the hardships many families have to endure
because of the housing shortage.34
The housing situation is likely to have a negative effect on fertility. The
unavailability of new housing for young couples is surely one of the factors
lowering the marriage rate, which by 1978 was down to 6.2 per thousand popu-
lation from levels higher than 10.0 in the late 1960s.35 There is also evidence
that the housing shortage is partly responsible for the high divorce rate, which
stood at 2.6 per thousand population in 1978. This rate represents a fivefold
increase from the prerevolutionary level.36 In a 1973 study of divorce, a sample
of Havana residents cited the unavailability of housing and the need to share
accommodations with relatives as reasons for the increase in the divorce rate.37
It can be pointed out, of course, that in developing countries many chil-
dren and very poor housing commonly go together. Our argument about the
influence of the housing shortage in Cuba on fertility, once again, rests on the
psychological effect of frustrated expectations. With little hope for improve-
ment, many Cubans seem to prefer having fewer children to living in substan-
dard housing or in very cramped quarters.

Return to economic differentiation
By the late 1960s and early 1970s the income redistribution measures had
largely achieved their purpose. Agrarian reforms, free utilities, the rationing
and subsidizing of consumer goods, programs of job creation, and the expan-
sion of educational and health services had redistributed income and reduced
longstanding differentials by class and residence. As MacEwan put it, equality
had become "entrenched."38
After a decade of revolutionary change it had become increasingly clear,
however, that the income redistribution measures were beginning to have ad-
verse effects as well, and indeed, were impairing the ability of the Cuban
economy to grow. Expenditures for social programs, for example, increased
Cuba's foreign debt. Another example was the policy of full employment,
which was maintained at the expense of labor productivity. Concern for these
problems was translated into a change in government policy when, in 1971, the
Cuban leadership began to implement what Mesa-Lago has labeled the Soviet
Economic Reform Model.39 Seeking to remedy problems resulting from labor

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

absenteeism, economic dislocations, and the huge foreign debt, this model
places emphasis on growth based on rational economic planning. This repre-
sented a break with the policy of redistribution. In the words of Mesa-Lago:

The Cubans painfully learned in the 1960s and acknowledged in the 1970s that
when a goal such as more equal distribution is idealistically pushed beyond rea-
sonable limits, disregarding [the] economic costs [of] decline in productivity and
growth, the survival of the whole system is in jeopardy . . In the current
stage, begun in the early 1970s, goals such as growth have received first priority
while emphasis on other goals-for example, equality-has been considerably

Wage subsidies and programs of labor mobilization were severely cur-
tailed, and a Soviet-type system of performance quotas and more sharply dif-
ferentiated wage scales was introduced. Utilities started charging customers for
services that previously were free. The new policies resulted in higher prices
for consumer goods, tighter domestic budgets, and even some reemergence of
unemployment. One of the principal aims of the policy shift was to establish a
system of material incentives in order to combat absenteeism and raise labor
productivity.41 Indeed, the income redistribution measures that had played a
role in increasing fertility in the 1960s had, by the 1970s, not only run their
course, but were deliberately curtailed. We will address later the implications
of this for fertility.

Uneven economic performance
The favorable economic performance of the Cuban economy during the first
three years of the revolution proved to be temporary. This was not unexpected:
in part, the favorable performance had been spurious since it was achieved
through disinvestments in the capital stock and through depletion of invento-
ries. But, as this became evident by the second half of the 1960s, there were
other and more important factors at work that led to a deterioration of economic
performance. Mesa-Lago provides a fairly comprehensive listing of these fac-

S. .the rapid and wide collectivization of the means of production, which largely
destroyed the automatic mechanisms of the market without an adequate sub-
stitute; the numerous changes . in the model of economic organization and
development strategy, which made it impossible for any policy to consolidate;
the idealistic errors and inefficiencies of the Mao-Guevarist stage . ; the ex-
odus of experienced managerial, technical and professional personnel . ; the
decline of economic and managerial studies . ; the low sugar output in vari-
ous years combined with low sugar prices in the international market; the con-
sumptionist policy of the early years of the Revolution . ; the cost of the
economic embargo imposed by the United States and OAS upon Cuba and of
shifting the entire set of international economic relations away from the United
States towards the USSR and the socialist camp; and the heavy burden of mili-
tary expenditures for internal defense and subversion abroad.42


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

By the mid to late 1960s the government reversed its earlier policy of
seeking rapid industrialization and placed the hopes for economic recovery and
growth on agriculture and particularly on Cuba's traditional major source of
foreign exchange earnings, sugar. The goal for the 1970 harvest was to produce
10 million tons of sugar, a national record. Achieving that goal in 1970 and in
the years beyond, the leadership argued, would go far toward solving Cuba's
economic problems. It would help to reduce the foreign debt and bring in
much-needed foreign exchange to help develop the country and improve con-
sumption levels. Virtually all sectors of Cuban society were mobilized toward
the realization of the goal: "sucrophilia" reigned.43
The 1970 sugar harvest, although setting a record, fell far short of the
goal. The overcommitment of labor and other economic resources to the sugar
harvest severely disrupted the rest of the national economy.44
The first half of the 1970s did witness an economic recovery, attributable
mainly to the high prices of sugar that prevailed in the world market until about
1975. Also contributing to the improved economic situation were the greater
efficiency of the new model of economic planning; the maturing returns to
previous investments in human and physical capital; the increased flow of
credit from market economies, resulting from the easing of the trade restric-
tions previously placed on Cuba by the United States and the Organization of
American States; considerable Soviet economic assistance;45 and the postpone-
ments of the repayment of the foreign debt to the Soviet Union.46 Levels of
living improved somewhat during this period, as the greater availability of
foreign exchange permitted Cuba to import consumer and capital goods from
Western economies, and as the Soviet Union increased its exports of some of
these goods to Cuba. Household appliances and passenger cars, for example,
while still in short supply, reappeared in relatively large numbers after years in
which their import had been strictly limited.
If the improved economic picture provided the basis for a certain re-
newal of optimism, the renewal was to be short-lived. Starting in about 1976,
the Cuban economy went into a tailspin and Cuban economic aspirations were
once again frustrated. Mesa-Lago has attributed this most recent period of eco-
nomic difficulties to

.the decline in sugar prices in the international market; agricultural plagues
.. and problems in the fishing and nickel industries; a sharp reduction of the
flow of credit from market economies since 1979; some complications in the
implementation of the new System of Economic Management and Planning; and
the heavy burden of Cuban involvement in Africa.47

Low levels of consumption
For ordinary Cubans the most important manifestation of these economic prob-
lems was a severe shortage of virtually all consumer goods, including food and
clothing. The onset of that shortage during the second half of the 1960s, and its
persistence thereafter-except for a short respite in the early 1970s-could not

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

fail to dampen the spirit of optimism that had prevailed during the early years
of the revolution.
Those shortages, combined with the government's policy of motivating
people to work through the use of material incentives and a reduction in the
money supply, have priced many "nonessential" goods beyond the reach of
most families. Many of those goods are presumably available through the black
market, and often they are available through the officially established "parallel
market," in which goods are sold at prices substantially higher than those of
rationed goods (in fact, higher than comparable prices in Western economies),
but below the levels of the black market. Average Cuban wages and salaries are
very low in relation to the cost of most of such goods. Mesa-Lago, for exam-
ple, provides data (relating to 1977-78) showing that the price of a 17-inch
black and white television set in the parallel market ranged between 650 and
900 pesos, and the price of a medium-sized refrigerator between 650 and 850
pesos. By contrast, the average monthly wage in 1978 was 140 pesos. Accord-
ing to Mesa-Lago, "the cheapest refrigerator or television [set] cost the equiva-
lent of five months' average wages" even when purchased through the
government allocation plan that controls the distribution of goods among work
places.48 Prior to the revolution a large percentage of Cuba's population owned
such appliances.49 Arguably, part of the original overwhelming popular sup-
port for the revolution was contingent on the belief that aspirations for such
items would be better fulfilled under the new social and economic order.
The shortages and high prices are not limited to "nonessential" goods.
While a number of consumer staples are rationed and marketed at subsidized
prices, many observers believe that the rations are insufficient to satisfy basic
needs, especially if cultural preferences are taken into account. In prerevolu-
tionary Cuba, per capital average yearly rice consumption hovered around 50
kilograms.50 In the official subsidized markets the price of rationed rice, the
basic Cuban foodstuff, is 21 cents per pound, and each person, according to the
rationing guidelines, is allocated five pounds per month (or 27 kilograms per
year). Consumers must supplement their rations by purchasing rice on the
black market, where reportedly rice sells for two pesos per pound.51 Many
other such examples could be cited.
In his recent study, Mesa-Lago observes:

.. most essential clothing and footwear remain rationed-for example, one
each annually of a pair of pants, a skirt, a shirt, a blouse, a dress, a pair of leather
shoes, and just four meters of fabric . one's quota or option to buy does not
guarantee that either the item is in stock or available in the consumer's size;
hence, queues for manufactured goods are often worse than for foodstuffs.52

Mesa-Lago goes on to note that in the black market, where many of these
shortages can be made up, even essential goods are "unaffordable . for the
average citizen. An entire monthly wage could be spent on one pound of cof-
fee, a pair of shoes, a meter of fabric, and a couple of pounds of beef."53

Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

It is officially claimed that in revolutionary Cuba "aspirations for indi-
vidual progress are not satisfied as a function of income level, whose spread is
limited," and that "the accumulation of wealth is restricted and consumerism is
not encouraged."54 But our review of the historical evidence suggests that the
principal reason consumerism is not encouraged is the inability of the Cuban
economy to satisfy even some basic material needs and others acquired within
a given socioeconomic context. In Cuba materialism is very much alive, as the
background of successive waves of emigration shows-each wave of emigra-
tion increasingly drawing on those segments of Cuban society whose levels of
living have improved most with the achievements of the revolution but who
also expected more.
We believe, and have tried to show here, that the people of Cuba had and
presumably still have high aspirations for material well-being. Those aspira-
tions evolved under the shadow of the most consumer-oriented society in the
world, a society that for over 50 years influenced every aspect of Cuban life.
The promise of fulfilling those aspirations was at the center of the popular
support received by the revolution, and the promise was reinforced by the early
redistributive policies of the new regime. Many underprivileged Cubans be-
lieved that the revolution would create the necessary conditions to satisfy those
aspirations, and indeed the original intent of the revolutionary leadership was
to do so. One plausible response to frustrated national expectations is voluntary
restriction of family size by Cuban couples.

Low or negative economic value of children
Critics of our interpretation might argue that having children in Cuba is rela-
tively costless since the state provides many child-related services at no cost or
at subsidized prices. We take issue with this notion. Despite price supports and
free social services, raising a child in Cuba entails significant monetary as well
as other costs for parents. For example, only about 3 percent of Cuban children
of primary school age receive government scholarships covering all their
needs.5 Most parents are responsible for financial support of their children and
must find the means to provide them with what is not readily accessible through
the rationing system. Since 1976, most families have had to pay to place their
children in day care centers. Further, government policies that set very high
prices for "nonessential" goods discourage childbearing by raising the oppor-
tunity cost of having children. Women often must choose between having chil-
dren and wage employment, just as they do in market economies.
It can be further argued that a longer term effect of the structural changes
that took place in the economy of postrevolutionary Cuba was a reduction in
the economic value of children to parents. The virtual elimination of the private
sector has reduced the utility of children as a source of labor in family enter-
prises. In turn, the new economic system, by eliminating many of the eco-
nomic uncertainties with which the poor have to cope in Third World nations,
has reduced the value of children as a form of risk aversion. In Cuba, as in


Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

other socialist states, employment, or at least a minimum income, is virtually
guaranteed; health services are provided free or at low cost; essential goods, if
in short supply, are available at subsidized prices; and most of the population is
covered by a system of retirement pensions. Thus, children are no longer a
crucial source of old-age security.
In arguing that some of the changes instituted by the revolution have
caused a shift in parental assessments of the economic value of children, we
should add that for a substantial segment of the Cuban population such a shift
probably occurred much earlier than 1959. This relates to our point regarding
the need to take into account historical trends in Cuban fertility, as well as the
differential impact of the revolution on Cuba's prerevolutionary class system.
The moderately low fertility level prior to the revolution indicates that most
Cubans apparently did not view large families as economically advantageous
and did not rely on their children for old-age security or as insurance against
life's uncertainties. According to Mesa-Lago, in 1958 63 percent of the Cuban
labor force was covered "for old age, disability, and survivors insurance, while
all the labor force was covered against occupational accidents and diseases,
and female employees had maternity insurance."56 Clearly, then, the argument
that the changes instituted by the revolution caused the shift in assessments
regarding the value of children has applicability only to the social strata whose
welfare prior to the revolution depended on economic assistance from their
children. Nevertheless, by the 1970s such a shift, regardless of why and when
it occurred, was fairly generalized throughout the population and undoubtedly
contributed to the decline in fertility.

But is there any firm evidence to link the poor performance of the econ-
omy, housing shortages, low consumption levels, and costs of children with
low fertility? We believe there is. We have already mentioned the changing
socioeconomic composition of successive waves of Cuban emigrants over the
years. Furthermore, of a sample of emigrants arriving in the United States in
1973 and 1974, 96 percent stated that one of the reasons they left Cuba was that
they saw "a 'lack of future' in terms of social and economic aspirations for self
and children."57
Further evidence is provided by an exploratory study recently published
in a Cuban public health journal. This study was conducted between December
1978 and June 1979 while its author was working in the sugarharvest with a
group of young males, all from Havana. Of the 15 married men in this small
sample, 13 indicated they did not want any more children because of housing
problems; 12 of them also said that they did not want any more children be-
cause their income was insufficient. Of the married or divorced fathers earning
150 pesos a month or less, 11 (out of 15, or 73 percent) stated that they did not
earn enough to satisfy the needs of their families.58 Finally, the few independ-
ent studies conducted in Cuba that have involved detailed field work in the
early 1970s have shown that the economic conditions were difficult even in
comparison to the conditions of the formerly underprivileged before the revolu-
tion .9


Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

Realistic and pessimistic assessments of
economic development by the leadership
As we have noted earlier, public statements by the Cuban leaders, and espe-
cially the speeches of Fidel Castro, provide important insights into the state of
the economy. Such statements represent the principal means through which the
people receive information from the highest levels of government regarding the
course of the revolution. We have also noted that among the factors that con-
tributed to the optimism of the early revolutionary period were the naively
optimistic assessments and promises of economic development made by politi-
cal leaders at a time when favorable economic conditions prevailed. The down-
turns in the economy during the second half of the 1960s and after 1975 were
likewise reflected in the public statements of the leadership. The speeches of
Fidel Castro, in particular, reflected the deepening economic malaise, espe-
cially after the failure of the 10 million ton sugar harvest.
On 26 July 1970, for example, Castro delivered his "contradictions"
speech, in which he reviewed Cuban agriculture and industry and demonstrated
the seriousness of the economic situation. He also admitted to errors in the
management of the economy, indicating that "the leaders of this Revolution
have cost the people too much in our process of learning."60
Thereafter, Castro's speeches on the economy and domestic conditions
in general never regained the optimistic tone that imbued his public statements
during the early years of the revolution. Even when the Cuban economy im-
proved during the first half of the 1970s, the often recklessly optimistic assess-
ments of Cuba's economic prospects were missing. The speeches made in 1973
and 1974 reflected a degree of optimism about the possibilities for economic
development afforded by high sugar prices, but it was a guarded optimism.
Starting in 1975, and concurrent with the economic decline, the speeches
by the Cuban leader, once again, took on a more somber tone, presenting
accomplishments, but also dwelling on failures and on the need to improve

The increasing availability of abortion
and contraception
The respective roles of abortion and contraception as proximate determinants
of fertility decline in Cuba, although not within the scope of the present discus-
sion, merit mention. They are additional and in a sense independent factors
apart from the crucial socioeconomic changes described here.
Restrictions on legal induced abortion, strictly applied in the years im-
mediately following the revolution, were progressively eased starting in 1964.
The legal abortion rate peaked at 69.5 abortions per thousand women aged
15-44 in 1974, and its subsequent tapering off can plausibly be attributed to
increased availability of modern contraceptive methods, particularly since the
mid-1970s, and the substitution of contraceptive practice for abortion.62
It seems possible that limited access to abortion and low availability of


Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

modern contraceptives in the late 1960s-when imports from the United States
had long ceased and local manufacture was at very low levels-may provide a
partial explanation for the relatively slow pace of fertility decline at that time,
despite the already worsening economic conditions. Certainly their subsequent
wide availability and the parallel sharp fertility declines are consistent with
arguments that access to abortion and contraception can accelerate if not trigger
fertility decline.


Our interpretation of the fertility decline in Cuba is in broad agreement with
explanations that assign dominant weight to social and economic change. A
specific point where we differ from most analyses concerning the causes of the
Cuban fertility decline is our feeling that the decline that followed the baby
boom has been influenced to a great extent by the poor performance of the
Cuban economy. A further distinguishing feature of our interpretation is the
assertion that economic, social, and political conditions have deeply affected
both the aspirations of the Cuban people for material well-being and the ex-
pected and actual satisfaction of those aspirations. The interplay of these aspi-
rations and perceptions largely laid the downward course of fertility. The
emphasis on these factors in explaining the Cuban fertility decline is par-
ticularly appropriate, we believe, if applied to that considerable segment of the
population that, prior to the revolution, was already well along in its demo-
graphic transition. It also has force in explaining the fertility behavior of for-
merly more marginalized social groups whose latent aspirations were
encouraged but not satisfied by political and economic changes resulting from
the Cuban revolution.

Lisandro Perez wishes to acknowledge the
support he received from the Joint Committee
on Latin American Studies of the Social Sci-
ence Research Council and the American
Council of Learned Societies.
I Sergio Diaz-Briquets and Lisandro
Perez, "Cuba: The demography of revolu-
tion," Population Bulletin 36, no.1 (1981);
Gerardo Gonzalez, German Correa, Margarita
M. Erraziriz, and Rail Tapia, Estrategia de
desarrollo y transici6n demogr6fica: el caso
de Cuba, vol.1 (Santiago, Chile: Centro Lati-
noamericano de Demografia, 1978); Paula E.
Hollerbach, "Recent trends in fertility, abor-
tion and contraception in Cuba," International
Family Planning Perspectives 6, no.3 (Sep-
tember 1980): 97-106; and Barent F. Land-
street, Jr., Cuban Population Issues in Histor-

ical and Comparative Perspective, Latin
American Studies Program Dissertation
Series, Cornell University, 1976.
2 James T. Fawcett and Siew-Ean Khoo,
"Singapore: Rapid fertility transition in a com-
pact society." Population and Development
Review 6, no.4 (December 1980): 549-579.
3 For a view of prerevolutionary fertility
in Cuba see 0. Andrew Collver, Birth Rates in
Latin America: New Estimates of Historical
Trends and Fluctuations (Berkeley: University
of California, 1965); and Diaz-Briquets and
P6rez, cited in note 1.
4 United Nations, Department of Eco-
nomic and Social Affairs, National Experi-
ence in the Formulation and Implementation of
Population Policy: Cuba, 1959-76, ST/ESA/

Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

SER.R./17 (New York: United Nations, 1977);
and Barent F Landstreet, Jr., "Cuba," in Pop-
ulation Policies in the Caribbean, ed. Aaron
Lee Segal (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington
Books, 1975), pp. 127-158.
5 See Diaz-Briquets and PNrez, cited in
note 1; Hollerbach, cited in note 1; and Paula
E. Hollerbach, "Determinants of fertility de-
cline in post-revolutionary Cuba," in Fertility
Decline in Developing Countries: Case Stud-
ies, ed. W. Parker Mauldin (forthcoming).
6 According to data provided by Gille for
selected countries and to estimates of age-spe-
cific rates for Cuba made by Catasts Cervera,
Cano, and Velazquez in the 1950s, fertility
levels in Cuba were about the same as or
somewhat higher than those of Australia, Can-
ada, New Zealand, Portugal, and the United
States whether fertility was measured by the
crude birth rate or by other more refined in-
dexes, such as the total fertility rate or the
gross reproduction rate:

CBR (1957) TFRa (1956)
Australia 22.9 3.22
Canada 28.2 3.66
New Zealand 25.1 3.40
Portugal 23.7 3.80
United States 25.4 3.58
Cuba 26.1 (1958) 3.60
aExcept for Cuba, TFRs were estimated from GRR

At this time, obviously, some of these coun-
tries were going through a baby boom. Halvor
Gille, "An international survey of recent fer-
tility trends," in National Bureau of Economic
Research, Demographic and Economic
Change in Developed Countries (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1960), pp. 17-35;
and Sonia Catastis Cervera, Pedro Cano, and
Elio VelAzquez, "Evoluci6n estimada de la fe-
cundidad en Cuba: 1900-1950," Estudios de-
mogrificos, Centro de Estudios Demo-
grificos, Universidad de la Habana, Serie 1,
no.5, 1975.
7 According to the 1981 version of the
Population Reference Bureau's World Popula-
tion Data Sheet, only 24 developing countries
had total fertility rates in 1980 comparable to
that of Cuba in the late 1950s. Some of these
countries, such as Argentina and Uruguay,

had had lower fertility rates than Cuba during
the 1950s.

8 Alfonso Farn6s Morej6n, "Cuba: tablas
de mortalidad estimadas por sexo, period
1955-70," Estudios demograficos, Centro de
Estudios Demogrificos, Universidad de la
Habana, Serie 1, no.8, December 1976.

9 Diaz-Briquets and Pdrez, cited in note 1,
p. 6. This interpretation is based on assess-
ments and statistical data found in, among
other sources: Steven E. Beaver, Demo-
graphic Transition Theory Reinterpreted
(Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath and Com-
pany, 1975); Cuban Economic Research Proj-
ect, A Study on Cuba (Coral Gables: Univer-
sity of Miami Press, 1965); Jorge I.
Dominguez, Cuba: Order and Revolution
(Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 1978); International Bank for
Reconstruction and Development (World
Bank), Report on Cuba (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1951); Carmelo
Mesa-Lago (ed.), Revolutionary Change in
Cuba (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971);
and Lowry Nelson, Cuba: The Measure of a
Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Min-
nesota Press, 1972).

10 From the early twentieth century on,
the public health literature of prerevolutionary
Cuba was replete with references to the "so-
cial problem" of abortion. Conversations with
physicians presently residing outside of Cuba
confirm that although abortions were illegal,
for all practical purposes they were available
on demand and at a very low cost for those
who could not afford a steep fee. Many physi-
cians, as well as less skilled abortion practi-
tioners, even offered their services through
home visits. Some of the physicians inter-
viewed, who were probably more sensitive to
the abortion issue than most of the general
population, told one of the authors of this pa-
per that the issue of abortion did not provoke
the kind of heated controversies that are com-
mon in the United States. It is certain that
some groups, such as the Catholic Church,
were opposed to it; however, the influence of
the Church on the vast majority of Cubans was

11 The estimated provincial crude birth
rates in 1958 were as follows:

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

Pinar del Rio 28.4
Havana 19.6
Matanzas 21.6
Las Villas 23.0
Camagiiey 25.5
Oriente 33.9
Total Cuba 26.1
SOURCE: Gonzalez et al., cited in note 1, Table

12 Personal communications.
13 It is also true that fertility has remained
at relatively stable levels for decades in Argen-
tina and Uruguay, two countries that histor-
ically had lower fertility than Cuba. However,
these countries have opposed family limitation
efforts since they adhere to a pronatalist
14 Landstreet, cited in note 1; Hollerbach,
articles cited in notes 1 and 5; GonzAlez et al.
and Diaz-Briquets and Perez, both cited in
note 1.
15 Part of the fertility increase in the early
1960s may have resulted from the making up
of marriages (and births that were postponed)
during the immediately preceding turbulent
years. However, it is unlikely that these fac-
tors accounted for more than a limited portion
of the baby boom.
16 The extent to which enforcement of the
laws against induced abortion contributed to
the fertility increase cannot be ascertained for
obvious reasons. In conversations with physi-
cians who performed abortions in Cuba at the
time, one of the authors was told that for a
period of time the prevalence of abortion de-
clined since practitioners began to be more
careful in order to avoid detection and prose-
cution. Eventually the incidence of abortion
began to rise, reaching within a relatively
short time, according to these informers, a
level not very different from that of earlier
years. The probable impact of a shortage of
contraceptives is even more uncertain, but is
not likely to have been very significant, in part
because a reduction in imports of contracep-
tives was probably eventually made up by an
increase in their local manufacture.
17 Juan P6rez de la Riva, "La population
de Cuba et ses problemes," Population 22,
no.l (January-February 1967): 102.


18 Claes Brundenius, "Measuring income
distribution in pre- and post-revolutionary
Cuba," Cuban Studies 9, no.2 (July 1979):
29-44. The shift in the distribution of income
between 1953 and 1962 estimated by Brun-
denius is in basic agreement with that inde-
pendently derived by Arthur MacEwan in his
Revolution and Economic Development in
Cuba (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981),
19 For reviews of these developments see:
Nelson P. Vald6s, "The radical transformation
of Cuban education," in Cuba in Revolution,
ed. Rolando E. Bonachea and Nelson P. Val-
d6s (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1972),
pp. 422-455; Martin Carnoy and Jorge
Wertheim, "Cuba: Economic change and edu-
cation reform," World Bank Staff Working Pa-
per no.317, Washington, D.C., 1979; Comi-
si6n Econ6mica para America Latina
(CEPAL), Cuba: estilo de desarrollo y politi-
cas sociales (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno
Editores, 1980); Ross Danielson, Cuban Medi-
cine (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction
Books, 1979); and Sergio Diaz-Briquets, The
Health Revolution in Cuba (Austin: University
of Texas Press, forthcoming).
20 Archibald R. M. Ritter, The Economic
Development of Revolutionary Cuba: Strategy
and Performance (New York: Praeger, 1974),
p. 106. See also Carmelo Mesa-Lago, The
Economy of Socialist Cuba: A Two Decade
Appraisal (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1981).
21 For example, an excessive amount of
livestock was slaughtered and brought to mar-
ket in response to increases in demand. This
led to a deleterious shrinkage in the size of
herds, with detrimental effects on their even-
tual maintenance and growth.
22 For a classic study of the complex and
diverse motivations of the emigrants for leav-
ing Cuba during the first few years of the revo-
lution, see Richard R. Fagen, Richard A.
Brody, and Thomas J. O'Leary, Cubans in Ex-
ile: Disaffection and the Revolution (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1968).
23 Montaner, in a "nonacademic" but
very insightful book on the Cuban revolution,
shows that these views were widely held by
the more politicized social groups. These ideas
have been encountered by anyone familiar

Fertility Decline in Cuba: A Socioeconomic Interpretation

with Cuba's historical record. Carlos Alberto
Montaner, Secret Report on the Cuban Revo-
lution (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction
Books, 1981), p.254.
24 Statement made by Ernesto Guevara as
chairman of the Cuban delegation at the Fifth
Plenary Session of the Organization of Ameri-
can States Special Meeting of the Inter-Ameri-
can Economic and Social Council, 8 August
1961, Punta del Este, Uruguay; in Rolando E.
Bonachea and Nelson P Vald6s (eds.), Che:
Selected Works of Ernesto Guevara
(Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1969),
p.28. In 1980, even without taking into ac-
count the effects of two decades of persistent
inflation, Cuba's per capital income was well
under half the level predicted by Guevara for
this year. All the other promises failed to ma-
terialize as well.
25 "Informe del Dr. Regino Boti, Minis-
tro de Economia a la Primera Reuni6n Nacio-
nal de Producci6n," Obra revolucionaria,
no.30, 26 August 1961, pp. 18-19. Shortly af-
ter these pronouncements were made, these
items began to be strictly rationed. Rationing
continues to this day.
26 "Discurso de Fidel Castro, aniversario
de la ley de reform agraria," Obra revolu-
cionaria, no.3, 27 May 1960, p.11; and "Dis-
curso de Fidel Castro," Obra Revolucionaria,
3 June 1960, p.11.
27 Diaz-Briquets and P6rez, cited in note
1, p. 15.
28 For a discussion of the family-related
policies of the Cuban government, especially
the Family Code of 1975, see Lisandro Pdrez,
"The family in Cuba," in The Family in Latin
America, ed. Man Singh Das and Clinton
Jesser (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House,
29 Hollerbach, cited in note 1.
30 Maruja Acosta and Jorge E. Hardoy,
Urban Reform in Revolutionary Cuba, An-
tilles Research Program Occasional Paper
no.l, Yale University, 1973, p.8.
31 Junta Central de Planificaci6n, La si-
tuaci6n de la vivienda en Cuba y su evoluci6n
perspective (Havana: Editorial Orbe, 1976).
32 Calculated from data in Junta Central
de Planificacion, cite in note 31, pp. 54-63,
and official data on annual housing construc-

33 Sergio Roca, "Housing in socialist
Cuba," in Oktay Ural (ed.), Housing, Plan-
ning, Financing and Construction: Proceed-
ings of the International Conference on
Housing, Planning, Financing, Construction,
Miami Beach, Florida, 2-7 December 1979
(New York, Pergamon Press, 1980), vol.1, p.
34 Laura Bergquist, "Behind the Cuban
exodus," GEO 2 (August 1980): 14; Fred
Ward, Inside Cuba Today (New York: Crown
Publishers, 1978), pp. 8-9; Fred Ward, "In-
side Cuba today," National Geographic 151,
no.l (January 1977): 41; and Helga Silva,
"Cubans dislike daily hardships but praise
effects of Revolution," The Miami Herald, 7
August 1979, p. 12-A.
35 Republic of Cuba, National Committee
of Statistics, Anuario estadistico de Cuba,
1978 (Havana, no date), Table 8.
36 Republic of Cuba, cited in note 35; and
Diaz-Briquets and P6rez, cited in note 1, p. 18.
As with the marriage rate, interpreting trends
in the divorce rate is complicated by legaliza-
tion of consensual unions.
37 Jorge Hernlndez et al., Estudio sobre
el divorcio, Centro de Informaci6n Cientifica
y T6cnica, Universidad de la Habana, Havana,
1973, p. 67.
38 MacEwan, cited in note 18, p. 161.
39 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, pp.
40 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 3.
41 MacEwan, cited in note 18, p. 181.
42 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 35.
43 Ritter, cited in note 20, chapter 5, pp.
44 Ritter, cited in note 20, especially pp.
183-187; and Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20. pp.
45 Soviet assistance has been massive,
some 17 billion dollars between 1961 and 1979.
Some observers claim that in 1978, a relatively
prosperous year, Soviet assistance accounted
for between one-fourth and one-third of gross
national product. Alberto Recarte, Cuba:
economic y poder (1959-1980) (Madrid: Al-
ianza Editorial, 1980), p. 153; and Lawrence
H. Theriot and JeNelle Matheson, "Soviet
economic relations with non-European
CMEA: Cuba, Vietnam and Mongolia-

Sergio Diaz-Briquets / Lisandro Perez

Cuba," in Joint Committee Print, Soviet Econ-
omy in a Time of Change: A Compendium of
Papers Submitted to the Joint Economic Com-
mittee, Congress of the United States (Wash-
ington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office,
10 October 1979), vol.2, p. 560.
46 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, pp.
47 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 36.
48 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 162.
49 On the basis of official statistics and
population figures it can be estimated that 28
percent of Cuban families in 1958 owned tele-
vision sets and about 70 percent owned radios.
It is important to emphasize that this was over
20 years ago, and that the cost of producing
those items then was much higher than it is at
present. In 1958 there were 132 radios and 54
television sets per thousand population; in
1978 the corresponding figures were 151 and
50. By many consumers, if not by the major-
ity, some of these goods were considered ne-
cessities and almost everyone hoped to have
them. Juan F. Noyola, a Mexican economist
highly sympathetic to the Cuban revolution,
stated in 1959: "In a country like Cuba, where
a large proportion of the population has an in-
come level that allows it to enjoy some of
life's conveniences and modern technology,
these articles [referring to such appliances] are
absolute essentials." Juan F. Noyola, La
economic cubana en los primeros aios de la
revoluci6n y otros ensayos (Mexico City:
Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1978), p. 70. Castro
himself, recognizing the national appetite for
household appliances, promised on one of his
many public appearances that "families would
not have to do without radios, televisions and
refrigerators." Fidel Castro, "Exposici6n de
Fidel Castro por el canal 2," Obra revolu-
ciolaria, no.3, 27 May 1960, p. 24.
50 Diaz-Briquets, cited in note 19, pp.
48-49, 191.
51 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, pp.
52 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 160.
53 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 162.


54 Direccion de Demografia, Comite Es-
tatal de Estadisticas (Repiblica de Cuba) and
Centro Latinoamericano de Demografia
(CELADE), Cuba: el descenso de la fecun-
didad, 1964-1978, San Jos6, Costa Rica, June
1981, p. 71.
55 Comit6 Estatal de Estadisticas (Re-
pdblica de Cuba), Anuario estadistico de
Cuba, 1979, Havana, Table 10, p. 213.
56 Mesa-Lago, cited in note 20, p. 169.
57 Alejandro Portes, Juan M. Clark, and
Robert L. Bach, "The new wave: A statistical
profile of recent Cuban exiles to the United
States," Cuban Studies 7, no.1 (January 1977):
58 Guillermo Gonzalez P6rez, "Algunas
consideraciones sobre aspects de la fecun-
didad susceptibles de ser estudiados en los
hombres: studio exploratorio," Revista
cubana de administration de salud 7, no.l
(January-March 1981): 77-85.
59 See in particular Ernst Halperin, The
Taming of Fidel Castro (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1981), pp. 141-151,
229-230; and the four books based on the field
work conducted by Oscar Lewis and his col-
laborators in Cuba (all published by the Uni-
versity of Illinois Press, Urbana): Oscar
Lewis, Ruth M. Lewis, and Susan M. Rigdon,
Four Men, 1977; Four Women, 1977; Neigh-
bors, 1978; and Douglas S. Butterworth, The
People of Buena Ventura: Relocation of Slum
Dwellers in Postrevolutionary Cuba, 1980.
60 Fidel Castro, "Speech at the mass rally
in celebration of the 17th anniversary of the
attack on the Moncada," Granma, 27 July
1970, p. 8.
61 Fidel Castro, "Informe central rendido
al Primer Congreso del Partido Comunista de
Cuba, 17 de Diciembre de 1975," Granma re-
sumen semanal, 28 December 1975, pp. 2-8;
and Fidel Castro, "Informe central rendido al
Segundo Congreso del Partido Comunista de
Cuba, 17 de Diciembre de 1980," Granma re-
sumen semanal, 28 December 1980, pp. 6-16.
62 Hollerbach, cited in note 1.

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