Birth figures raise questions and eyebrows

Statistics can sometimes be deceiving, as Arden McLean discovered when he queried figures relating to the registry of births, marriages and deaths Registry at a Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The Opposition Member of Legislative Assembly for East End expressed concern that the statistics seemed to show falling births, and rising numbers of deaths and marriages.

Admitting he was asking a light-hearted question in the midst of a sometimes fractious Q&A session over the budget in the marathon meeting, Mr. McLean asked pleadingly, ‘Please tell me the numbers are wrong. It says there are less Caymanians going to be born, more going to die and more going to get married.’

The government’s annual plan and estimates appeared to show the number of registration applications for births processed would be 950-1,000 for the 2009-2010 financial year, compared to 1,884 for the previous year. It showed that deaths to be registered would be 2,100-2,300 for this financial year compared to 1,999 for last year and 6,000-7,000 marriages registered for this year compared to 3,917 for 2008-2009.

Despite the falling number of birth registration applications processed, the 2009/10 budget for processing those applications was nearly three times higher at $99,450 compared to $34,300 last year.

‘In the end, it will cost more money to register when less Caymanians are born? There’s something wrong on that one,’ a bemused Mr. McLean told Leader of Government McKeeva Bush, who was fielding questions on issues within his portfolio as minister of financial services, tourism and development.

Mr. Bush pointed out that both Caymanians and non-Caymanians are included in the Births, Marriages and Death Registry.

He also put forward another cheekier potential explanation: ‘There was such poor performance under the PPM that it caused poor performance elsewhere.’

But the real clarification behind the mystery of Cayman’s disappearing population according to the budget document came from the Registrar General Cindy Jefferson-Bulgin who explained that the document referred to the number of applications being transferred from manual to electronic storage and did not reflect the actual annual number of births, marriages and deaths.

‘Each one has to be entered into our database, so it requires a registration. That is why you see such an increase. It’s not that we are expecting those figures to go down in the number of births,’ she said.

‘Well, what a sigh of relief!’ said Mr. McLean.

According to the government’s Economics and Statistics Office, in 2008 there were 793 births, 166 deaths and 487 marriages (not including marriages where both bride and groom are visitors) in Cayman.