The vast majority of the rural-to-urban population shift has been the result of migration from the southwestern departments (Ocotepeque, Lempira, Intibucá, La Paz, and Valle) to cities in the departments on or near the Caribbean coast (Cortés, Yoro, Atlántida, and Colón) and to Tegucigalpa (in Francisco Morazán department in the central highlands). During the earlier part of the twentieth century, employment opportunities in the newly established banana plantations attracted many people from southern and western Honduras to the Caribbean coast. Cities on the banks of the Río Ulúa, especially El Progreso, experienced impressive growth as a result of this migration from the south. Migration from the mountainous southwest sparked tremendous development in the city of San Pedro Sula. The search for employment also led many to Tegucigalpa, even though the capital has never been a center for industry or agriculture.
Demographers have predicted that, unless significant social and economic reforms are instituted, the rural-to-urban migration trend so prevalent in the twentieth century not only will continue but also will probably increase. Although Honduras is still primarily an agrarian society, urban centers have grown considerably since the 1920s. Analysts speculate that urban centers will continue to expand as a result of internal migration and national population growth.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Tegucigalpa in particular experienced sharp increases in its population. During the 1950s, Tegucigalpa's population increased nearly 75 percent. The following decade brought a population rate increase of more than 80 percent. In 1980 Tegucigalpa had a population of 400,000. By 1989 the population had soared to 576,661. This increase in population has practically crippled the already fragile infrastructure of the city. Housing is woefully inadequate, and a large percentage of the residents either lack running water altogether or receive inadequate amounts.
During the period between 1950 and 1980, San Pedro Sula had a population growth rate that exceeded that of Tegucigalpa. In the 1980s, the annual growth rate dropped somewhat and was less than that of Tegucigalpa (3.7 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively). In 1988 the population of San Pedro Sula stood at 287,350. Whereas San Pedro Sula has dealt more successfully with its population growth, it is nonetheless challenged to meet the housing, services, and employment needs of new inhabitants.
Other urban centers experiencing a high population growth rate are La Ceiba, on the Caribbean, and El Progreso, in the agricultural valley of the Río Ulúa. La Ceiba is the third-largest city in Honduras. In 1988 it had a population of 68,764 and an annual population growth rate of 3.2 percent. El Progreso is the country's fourth-largest city. The 1988 population of this city was 60,058 and the annual growth rate 4.5 percent. The populations of both La Ceiba and El Progreso are expected to exceed 100,000 by the year 2000.
The majority of migrants in Honduras are very young, ranging from their teens to their early twenties. Most male migrants gravitate toward developing agricultural areas, especially the Caribbean coast. Because women traditionally have a more limited choice of employment, their occupational skills are similarly limited. Among the many incentives for their migration are escape from economic hardship, as well as escape from marriage and childbearing at a very young age. The majority of women migrants seek domestic employment or work as street vendors in urban areas. In the early 1990s, an increasing number of women have been seeking employment in the maquiladoras, or assembly factories. Many others become prostitutes. Male urban migrants seek jobs in artisan shops, with merchants, and as laborers. Employment opportunities for the new migrants remain spotty, however, as the industrial and commercial sectors in Honduras have not created enough jobs to absorb the population coming from the rural areas.
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