Crowded Cayman predicted

A report circulated among the upper echelon of government last week suggests a Cayman Islands population of 96,000 people as the probable minimum in 20 years.

Principle Policy Advisor Philip Pedley prepared the report, titled ‘Population Scenarios: Past Trends and Future Possibilities’, for the Chief Secretary and The Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.

The report, which has not been officially released to the public, first tracks the population growth of the Cayman Islands since its settlement and looks extensively at the tremendous growth over the past 37 years.

‘Few communities have seen their population grow at the rate experienced by Caymanians over the past generation,’ the report begins. ‘Taken together, the years 1970-2006 witnessed a massive 428 per cent increase in population.’

Mr. Pedley said it was difficult to find a country that had experienced recent population growth at a rate similar to the Cayman Islands.

‘What [the 428 per cent population increase] means it that a Caymanian born in 1970 has already seen the population of Cayman multiply five times,’ the report states. ‘By the time he or she is 50 years old, it will have multiplied 10 times, if the present trend continues.’

Between 1970 and 2006, the average growth trend for the Cayman Islands has been 4.73 per cent per year. The report looks at the growth over that period and, based on the data, makes tentative projections of growth over the next 20 years.

‘How will the population change in the next 20 years?’ the report asks. ‘The question has important implications for every area of government policy and public life, from the number of schools needed, to demands on the healthcare system, to environmental, social and infrastructure pressures, to the size of the George Town landfill.’

Cayman’s population grew slowly but steadily for more than 250 years after it was settled in the early 1700s.

‘…The year 1970 would seem to be a turning point in the population growth, the moment when the Cayman Islands shed their image of ‘the island time forgot’,’ the report states. ‘Between 1970 and 1980… the population increased 76 per cent. Simply put, the population grew four times as fast in the 70s as it had in the 60s.’

Cayman’s growth since 1970 had been fast and steady. The population was estimated at 10,068 in 1970, 17,018 in 1980, 26,969 in 1990 and 40,800 in 2000. By the end of 2006, the population was estimated at 53,172, although the report acknowledges a feeling in some quarters that the figure is underestimated.

Predicting future population growth cannot be done with any precision, Mr. Pedley admitted in the report.

‘The answer depends on many factors, some of which – such as the global economy, political changes in Cuba and competition from other financial and tourist centres – are virtually impossible to predict.’

The report compares snapshots of 1986 and 2006 as a way of predicting future growth.

‘Are investor or consumer confidence stronger or weaker than they were 20 years ago?’ the report asks. ‘It is arguable they are at least as strong and that Cayman is as well positioned today for future expansion as it was in 1986.

‘The economic drivers of population change, which were at work in 1986, are still with us in 2006.’

The report goes on to look at the population growth if Cayman continues to grow at the same 4.73 per cent rate over the next 20 years as it did the previous 20 years.

Based on that growth rate, Cayman would have 84,410 people in 2016 and 134,000 people in 2026.

‘Are these projections realistic?’ Mr. Pedley asks. ‘On one level, it seems hard to believe that the population would grow this fast – about 150 per cent in 20 years. But then few people probably believed that the population would grow by 150 per cent between 1986 and 2006. Yet it did.’

The report also looks at alternative scenarios of growth, stating it is reasonable to suggest the population will continue to expand at a rate of between two per cent and six per cent per year.

‘It seems unlikely, though, that the average rate will go beyond six per cent over the next 20 years,’ the report states. ‘Likewise, the rate is unlikely to drop below two per cent.’

Based on population growth scenarios of two, three, four, five and six per cent per year over the next 10 years, Cayman’s population in 2016 would be somewhere between 64,816 and 95,223. For those growth rates over the next 20 years, Cayman’s population in 2026 would be between 79,011 and 170,530.

Mr. Pedley asks if it is possible to suggest a probable minimum growth rate from the projections.

‘Again, we have to balance the uncertainty of such projections against the importance of choosing some model to guide us,’ he states. ‘The three-per-cent growth track would seem not unreasonable as a minimum.’

That three-per-cent growth rate produces a population in Cayman of 71,000 in 2016 and 96,000 in 2026.

‘Some might regard it as conservative in view of the 4.73 per cent growth over the past 36 years,’ the report states.

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