Vital statistics

The challenges of a declining Mauritian population

13 mars 2024, 16:00


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The challenges of a declining Mauritian population

For years, the narrative around shrinking populations focused on the perceived benefits: less strain on resources, reduced environmental impact, and potentially higher standards of living. However, the Republic of Mauritius finds itself at a crossroads where its declining population, marked by a decrease to 1,260,379 in 2023, is morphing from a potential advantage into a substantial economic challenge.

The latest Economic and Social Indicators report highlights a concerning trend: an aging population with a rising dependency ratio. This trend underscores an inevitable truth – the balance between the working-age population and those dependent on social services is tilting dangerously towards the latter.

The exodus of youth and its consequences?

Mauritius, much like other nations, is witnessing a unquantified brain drain, where young, skilled individuals migrate in search of better opportunities (Dubai, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Luxembourg, among other hubs). This exodus exacerbates the demographic shift towards an older population, which in 2023 saw a 0.6% increase in the percentage of individuals aged 65 and over compared to the previous year. The implications of this shift are multifaceted but most notably manifest in an economic conundrum: a burgeoning pension need amidst a shrinking pool of contributors.

The situation is further complicated by the fertility rate, which stood at a low 1.4 in 2022. This rate falls significantly below the replacement level of 2.1, signaling a continued trend towards population decline. Vidya Charan, Executive Director of the Mauritius Family Planning & Welfare Association (MFWPA), emphasizes that Mauritius is undergoing critical demographic changes, necessitating a reassessment of policies, especially in areas like birth control and pension plans. However, it appears that no one is paying attention to her warnings, much less adjusting to the new demographic trends and realities.

Rethinking economic strategies

As Mauritius grapples with these demographic shifts, it must also contend with economic vulnerabilities inherent to small island developing states. The reliance on imports for basic goods – from dairy products to oil – places additional pressure on the economy, making it imperative to reconsider the current development model. The aging population, poised to make up 20% of the populace in three years, necessitates a comprehensive strategy that includes not only pension reform but also initiatives aimed at retaining and attracting young talent. Moreover, the international comparison provided in the report illustrates a global trend toward aging populations, yet with varying implications based on economic status and development. Mauritius, therefore, is not alone in facing these challenges but must navigate them with its unique constraints in mind.

It is clear that while Mauritius’ declining and aging population might have once been viewed through a lens of optimism, today, it poses a stark economic challenge. The government and community must come together to devise and implement strategies that address not only the immediate implications of this demographic shift but also its long-term repercussions on the economy.

Incentivizing young Mauritians to stay, developing robust pension systems that can withstand demographic pressures, and fostering an economy that can support an aging population are paramount. The time for action is now; the future economic stability of Mauritius depends on it.

International comparison

According to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, many countries worldwide publish population and demographic estimates. The Republic of Mauritius showed zero population growth from 2015 to 2022, unlike other countries such as South Africa (1.3%), Canada (1.2%), China (0.3%), and Germany (0.3%), with Japan experiencing a decrease (-0.2%).

In many cases, both in China and India, as well as in Mauritius, populations are declining because fertility rates have not surpassed the replacement rate of 2.1. “Having accurate estimates of population trends and predictions about future changes helps countries to formulate and implement policies. The global population growth rate is expected to decline in the coming decades, with the world population being 20-30 percent larger in 2050 than in 2020,” the UNDESA highlighted in its latest report.

The proportion of the population aged 60 years and over increased from 11.2% in 2010 to 18.3% in 2020; this indicates an increasing number of aging population... With the ever-growing aging population in the Republic of Mauritius, there is the likelihood that this will become a serious concern as consumption patterns change. “The ability of the government and community to sustain services and have adequate resources for families needs to be examined for appropriate measures to be implemented for the future generation,” rightly points out Vidya Charan, Executive Director of the MFPWA.

Our fertility rate was 1.4 in 2022, a drop of 0.66 from the previous year. “Mauritius is undergoing significant demographic changes with a low fertility rate which is below the replacement level of 2.1. In 25 years’ time, there will be an aging population of 30% of the total population, which requires critical thinking, analysis, and redefining of the birth control program in the country,” Vidya Charan reminds us, citing a consensus from the 1990s that “population is not about numbers but about people.”

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