St. Lucia - Population

St. Lucia - Population

St. Lucia's population was estimated at 140,000 in 1986. It grew consistently at a relatively high annual rate of 1.8 percent in the 1980s. These figures would have been even higher had it not been for the steady emigration of adult workers in search of employment; nearly 2 percent of the population left the island each year.

St. Lucia had a population density of approximately 227 inhabitants per square kilometer in the late 1980s, almost evenly dispersed between urban and rural areas. This pattern was expected to change, however, because limited amounts of arable land caused residents to migrate to the cities and towns. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) estimated that there was a net annual internal migration to Castries of approximately 0.8 percent in 1984. This trend was expected to continue into the foreseeable future and to place the greatest burden on Castries and Vieux Fort.

St. Lucia's rapidly increasing population, caused by the country's young population and high fertility rate, placed an enormous stress on the society, which was already experiencing underemployment, a growing informal economic sector, and increased pressure on livable space in urban areas. Although emigration might ameliorate the population problem, observers in the 1980s believed that the government might have to develop a national birth control program similar to those in other Eastern Caribbean islands.

Ethnically, St. Lucian society was homogeneous, with 90.5 percent of the population of African descent. The balance of the population was composed of East Indians (3.2 percent), Europeans (0.8 percent), and those of mixed ethnic background (5.5 percent). The vast majority of St. Lucians were Roman Catholic; only 10 to 15 percent of the population practiced other religions. Nevertheless, St. Lucia was not as uniform a society as it appeared. Language remained a distinguishing characteristic and was the basis of social discrimination. The official language was English, and 80 percent of the population was considered literate in English. However, a French creole language, or patois, was also commonly used, particularly in rural, interior portions of the country, and by lower socioeconomic groups throughout the country.

This linguistic dualism originated in the colonial period when St. Lucia was under the alternating stewardship of France and Britain. Linguistic influences at this time included those of the two European states, as well as the numerous African languages used by the slave population. The development of patois during the slavery period served two purposes. It facilitated communication between the French and slave populations, as well as among the various ethnolinguistic African groups who often did not share a common language. Until St. Lucia became British, French and patois coexisted harmoniously and were used interchangeably by the middle and upper classes; the uneducated, however, particularly the slave population, communicated only in patois.

The British, as the dominant social, political, and economic group in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, replaced French with English as the official language. English, however, lacked the common roots that French shared with patois, causing a clash of languages and cultures that previously had not existed. Although patois was replaced by English over time, it was still employed in some ceremonial functions. However, because patois continued to be associated with a sense of vulgarity and lack of culture and education, many St. Lucians hid their ability to communicate in it.

The effect of language on social status was still very pronounced. Those elements that did not speak English, comprising approximately 20 percent of the population, were excluded from the education system and hence unable to participate fully in political, economic, and social power sharing. The St. Lucian government recognized the problem and was attempting to incorporate this minority into the mainstream of society through language outreach programs. An improved infrastructure, especially an island-wide road network, was also bridging the gap between these two groups.

Observers believed that with time, English would be spoken by virtually the entire population, and as a result patois probably would become less influential even among the French descendants on the island. Nevertheless, it appeared unlikely that patois would disappear completely, given the fact that it was a symbol of cultural identity for many St. Lucians.

Country Studies main page | Caribbean islands Country Studies main page