Population and Settlement Patterns
Perhaps the most pronounced feature of the Belizean population, aside from its ethnic heterogeneity, is its small size. In 1980 the population was estimated at approximately 145,000. Slightly more than 50 percent of the people resided in eight urban areas, with more than 30 percent in Belize City. By 1990, the pattern of population distribution had changed, with 51.8 percent of the approximately 191,000 Belizeans living in rural areas. The growth in the rural population during the 1980s stemmed primarily from the influx of Central American immigrants who moved to Belize's countryside. Meanwhile, many urban Belizeans moved to the United States and elsewhere. Even with the increase in its overall population, Belize remained one of the least densely populated countries in the Americas, averaging 8.5 persons per square kilometer in 1991.
Belize is divided administratively into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. In 1991, more than one in three Belizeans lived in Belize District (including Belize City), which had a population density five times greater than the least populated district, Toledo.
As in many other developing societies, the Belizean population was unevenly divided by age and gender. The ratio of males and females in the population varied considerably over the last century. In the 1980s, males outnumbered females in most age groups. Shifts in the gender ratio have generally been attributed to changing migration patterns. In the 1940s and 1950s the emigration stream was predominantly male, but recently, women emigrants outnumbered men.
Consistent with the demographic profile of most developing nations was the general youthfulness of the Belizean population. In 1990 some 46 percent of Belizeans were fourteen years of age or younger and some 58 percent were under the age of twenty. Regular declines in the death rate have steadily increased the proportion of the population sixty-five years of age and older, to 4.6 percent in 1980.
The average crude birthrate for Belize experienced slow but steady decline, from 44.1 per 1,000 population in 1963 to 35.0 per 1,000 in 1990. The average fertility rate also dropped from nearly 7 children per woman in the late 1960s to 5.4 in 1985. Coupled with declining death and infant mortality rates, the high birthrate between 1970 and 1980 indicated a potential population increase of more than 3.0 percent for the decade. However, the actual increase between 1970 and 1980 was only 1.9 percent, indicating a very high rate of emigration, perhaps involving as many as one in every eight Belizeans. During the 1980s, the rate of natural population increase was about 3.0 percent for the decade. The difference between projected and actual population increase for the period 1980-1990 was considerably less than in the 1970s, as the actual rate of increase was some 2.4 percent. The closer correspondence of these two figures reflected not so much a decline in emigration by Belizeans, as the scale and demographic impact of the immigration from the surrounding Central American republics.
|Country Studies main page | Belize Country Studies main page|