This text could begin with the testimony of Leonor and Ricardo, who after 45 years raising a family together in Venezuela now watch their grandchildren grow up through Zoom while their children earn a living in four countries spread over two continents.
But this is not his story. Or at least it is not only yours: there are hundreds of thousands of families in a similar situation and often worse, since many Venezuelan grandparents do not have Zoom, passports, or resources to visit their grandchildren every so many years, sometimes not even money to pay for medicines.
Some grandparents they have kept their grandchildren by their side, but that only because when emigrating, the parents of the little ones did not have money to take them with them.
This translates into other problems for children (who miss their parents, who may go years without seeing) and for grandparents (who have an additional workload not always appropriate for their age).
And it is that the unprecedented migratory wave of recent years due to the economic, social and political crisis has generated great demographic changes that have ended up turning Venezuela into a country of old people and children, which, beyond the particular family dramas, has serious implications for the present and for the future development of the country.
The lost inhabitants
In 2015, the National Institute of Statistics of Venezuela (INE) estimated that by 2020 the country would have 32,605,423 inhabitants.
However, the most recent projections from the UN Population Office (UNPOP) estimate that for Last year Venezuela had 28,436,000 inhabitants: about four million people less than expected, a population similar to that existing in 2010.
And it is that according to the UN, Venezuela is the country in the world that has lost the most population in the last five years, even more than Syria, which is submerged in a civil war.
At the same time, Venezuela it is the only state in Latin America to lose inhabitants in the last decade.
Given that the UN Office for Refugees (UNHCR) points out that more than 5.6 million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years, it would be easy to attribute this population loss to emigration alone.
The situation, however, is more complex.
“We have been losing population on all sides,” he tells BBC Mundo Anitza Freitez, Director of the Institute for Economic and Social Research at the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Caracas.
Freitez, coordinator of the Encovi project, which portrays the living conditions of Venezuelans, explains that the population reduction is mainly due to massive emigration but also to a fall in the birth rate and an increase in mortality.
“The least number of births is not negligible because is contributing to the aging of the population“, He points out.
It indicates that the increase in infant mortality means a loss of 30 years of progress and that it has also translated into a three-year decrease in life expectancy.
A country of old men and children
All these changes have brought a new demographic landscape to Venezuela.
According to data from Encovi, there are now more single-person households, as well as a greater number of households headed by women.
“Our migration is mainly male. This has led to women being the ones who end up assuming the head of the household and we have a percentage of households headed by women above 50%. There is no other country in Latin America that has such a high level of female leadership. The average for the region is in the order of 36%, ”says Freitez.
The expert explains that around 60% of Venezuelan emigrants are people between the ages of 15 and 50 of age, which translates into a significant decrease in the workforce and an increase in the demographic weight of the dependent population, especially older adults.
According to Encovi, in Venezuela there are currently 65 dependents (under 15 and over 60) for every 100 people of working age, a large demographic burden that ended up reaching much earlier than expected.
“It is a country of old men and children”, summarizes Freitez to BBC Mundo.
“According to INE projections, it was expected that in 2039 the proportion of people aged 60 years and over would reach 12% -13% of the population and that situation was anticipated by 2020, according to the updates of the population projections. for Venezuela made by the United Nations. Aging was nearly 20 years ahead due to the selectivity of emigration that meant the exodus of young people ”, he explains.
These changes in the makeup of the population of Venezuela – driven in turn by the severe social, economic and political crisis that Venezuela is experiencing – have meant the loss of a unique opportunity for the development of the country.
“If we had continued with the trends that we were leading and had not gone through this period of generalized impoverishment, of contraction of the economy, of hyperinflation, it was expected that we would experience some four decades during which the demographic burden was to register its lowest levels“Freitez tells BBC Mundo.
“This meant that both on the child population and on the older adults, the investment requirements to satisfy the basic needs of these population groups were not going to be so pressing and, therefore, we could concentrate more resources on the formation of human capital ”, he adds.
The expert explains that countries such as South Korea have taken advantage of these periods of demographic transition to strengthen education and promote -with public and private investments- economic growth that generated enough wealth to develop social security programs to protect older people. as the country grew older.
In the case of Venezuela, it was estimated that this window of opportunity for development, known as the “demographic bonus,” would extend from 2000 to 2040, but demographers like Freitez warn that it has already closed.
The expert assures that the Venezuelan crisis has had an impact similar to that of a traumatic event.
“This situation, which is even classified as a complex humanitarian emergency, is equivalent to a traumatic event, how can it be a war. We know that the war is going to affect the younger population and the male population more ”, he explains.
But the effects of the loss of this opportunity may still weigh on the country for years to come.
Poorer, older, more dependent
The demographic changes suffered by Venezuela force the country to adapt to a new, more demanding reality.
“You have to accept that we Right now we have a population pyramid that is different from the one we imagine that we were going to have, ”says Freitez, indicating that Venezuela now faces a situation of scarce resources that must be optimized to achieve the country’s recovery.
“We must be very careful when thinking about the measures we have to take to recover human capital, to recover productive sectors that are strategic and that also have multiplier effects on other sectors to help this recovery process,” he says .
The anticipated aging of the population also poses new adaptation challenges, since -according to it- there are no institutions or an adequate social protection system to serve the elderly.
“The risk situation in which the elderly population lives is very high. We do not have a country where people have become aware that the infrastructures must be adapted so that the elderly can function. There are people who cannot leave their apartments because there are no elevators and people who have been left alone because the relatives left and stayed at the good of God, “he says.
But the effects of demographic change can also greatly affect the country’s economy.
Luis Zambrano Sequín, professor of economics and researcher at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, points out that the migratory wave not only reduced the number of people of working age, but also that those who are employed are less productive.
“The burden is now much greater because not only has there been a loss of population, but you have also had a loss of capital and a loss of productivity“, He points out.
Having fewer workers also reduces the number of consumers, something that impacts the size of the internal market, one of the elements that determine the economy’s capacity for growth.
“The smaller your market, the less attractive it is for investment because then you can’t take advantage of economies of scale. Many investors prefer to supply these markets from the outside rather than from within. That reduces the possibilities and the competitiveness of the country ”, he warns.
In these conditions, the country’s recovery options after the loss of the demographic bonus look a bit more uphill.
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