If Cayman’s population growth rate resumes its pre-COVID growth rate, the island will be home to 100,000 people by 2031.
Cayman’s population has increased at a rate of 4% per year for the past half-a-century.
While COVID-19 could yet cause further declines in the island’s population, history suggests it is likely to resume that upward curve if and when the impact of the pandemic abates.
An analysis of population trends by civil servant Dr. Philip Pedley, published in 2007, put Cayman’s growth into a historical context, examined past trends and future possibilities.
Since the 1970s, the Pedley report noted, “Cayman’s population has continued to rise at a rate that would be considered rapid for any country, but which is perhaps especially significant for a small island nation.”
The report examined past trends and projected potential future growth, suggesting the island’s population would continue its upward trajectory.
In a special report today we have updated some of the key data in the Pedley Report to project what the future could hold for Cayman if it stays on its current track.
50 years of exponential growth
Beginning with a small community of a few families in the early 1700s, as Pedley noted, the island grew slowly but steadily over 250 years. In the 1960s it was still a relatively small community of around 8,000 people. As the above graph shows, the next 50 years saw the islands population rocket as the modern Cayman economy was developed.
This rapid growth has been impervious to shocks including Ivan
During the past half-century Cayman’s rapid rise has faced various shocks that could have checked its growth.
History shows us that when this happened, a brief but significant downward spike in numbers, was followed by a rapid surge that quickly put Cayman back on its original trajectory.
Perhaps the best example of this is Hurricane Ivan. The population dipped dramatically after the storm from 44,1444 in 2003 to what Pedley described as ‘an artificial low’ of 36,340 in December 2004. The return of residents and an influx of newcomers to aid the recovery soon put Cayman back on a path of growth, with the population reaching 52,465 by the following year, as seen in the above graph. Similar v-shaped recoveries were seen after the 2008 financial crisis and the local economic crisis in 2012.
The growth continues
When Pedley wrote his report in 2006, the population of the Cayman Islands was 53,172. Though the growth rate slowed slightly in the years that followed it had picked up again during an economic boom over the last five years and by 2019 had almost reached 70,000.
Growth is driven by immigration
It seems self-evident to point out that such exponential growth in population has not been driven by the birth-rate.
Waves of immigration to fuel the engines of the island’s economy – financial services and tourism – have driven the island’s population growth.
The mix of Caymanians in the overall population dropped from 77% in 1980 to 56% in 2018 according to data from the ESO.
What does the future hold?
In 2006, Pedley suggested that the past was a good guide to the future and that Cayman’s growth would continue at a rate of anywhere between 2% and 6% over the next 20 years.
The actual year-on-year growth rate between 2006 and 2019 was towards the lower end of that estimate 2.5%.
The longer term growth rate since 1970 is almost exactly 4% per year.
So what does that mean for the future? The evidence of half-a-century suggests that without significant and deliberate policy interventions that would potentially run counter to the desire to rebuild Cayman’s struggling economy, growth will continue.
The rate of that growth is hard to predict but using Pedley’s projection of 2-6%, the graph above shows possible future paths for the island.
Taking the Pedley report as a basis and using additional and updated data from various Economics and Statistics Office reports, we can see that despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Cayman’s economy and population are on a long-term upward path.
Under the various scenarios analysed here, Cayman’s population could hit 100,000 within the next decade.
Whether that is a desirable destination or not is for the country’s leaders to determine, but the issues raised by the 2006 analysis seem as relevant today as they were at the time.
As Pedley wrote, “How will the population of Cayman change in the next 20 years? 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.”