The following is from the paper, Fiji’s far-reaching population revolution, by Professor Wadan Narsey
My population projections are based on the 2007 Census numbers and they indicate that by 2027, Indo-Fijians will comprise only 30% of all voters (assumed to be 18 years and over).
The ethnic conflicts over political leadership or domination will be well and truly history by then.
And with the incidence of poverty roughly the same for Fijians and Indo-Fijians (a third) if poverty alleviation resources are allocated to the poor only on the basis of need, the Indo-Fijian share will reduce from the current 36% down to mere 26% by 2027. “Affirmative action policies” will be a total non-issue.
So also should be ethnic shares of public sector jobs sought by school leavers, another hot political potato in the past.
So what is drastically changing the ethnic composition of Fiji’s population?
The fertility revolution
Of course, Indo-Fijians have emigrated far more (roughly 5000 per year) than Fijians (now roughly 1000 per year).
But behind the massive decline in the Indo-Fijian population is an equally massive historical decline in the Total Fertility Rates of Indo-Fijian women- from above 6 forty years ago, to probably below replacement value currently (below 2). For the last forty years, Indo-Fijian couples have been having far fewer children than indigenous Fijians.
The Fijian fertility rate has also declined, but nowhere as rapidly, and is still quite high, probably still above 3. This is what has led to higher child dependency ratios for Fijians (see below).
But a puzzling question remains: while there has been a Government-sponsored Family Planning Programme for the last four decades, why is it that the Fijian total fertility rate has not shown the same decline as the Indo-Fijian one?
Was it due to pressure for more children (ie more voters) from Fijian political leaders? Or from Fijian community leaders who are worried about the Fijian depopulation in rural areas?
Or is it that Fijian couples just choose to have more children regardless of the economic impact on their households or whoever else ends up looking after them?
Or were the Indo-Fijian couples far more aware of the resourcing implications and would rarely be able to pass children on to relatives?
Surely there is a great PhD thesis topic here.
And for Fijian leaders, who is going to stand up and tell young couples- please limit the number of children to 2 or 3. Not 5 or 6. It will be good for your households savings and standards of living, and it will be good for your country down the line.
But on the contrary, the Fiji public have seen Provincial Council leaders pleading with their people to have MORE children (and drink less kava) because villages are becoming depopulated.
Note the sad reality that even if young couples did make the decision today to limit the number of children to 2, the benefits will take decades to work through.
But learn from China with its “one child” policy thirty years ago. Today, China has far fewer primary school children to support and far less poverty than India, whose economy is smaller than China and has weaker economic growth.
The Education Revolution
But it is in the field of education, that the population changes are remarkable and potentially revolutionary.
Not too long ago, Indo-Fijians had roughly a half of all school enrolments, in primary and secondary schools managed by their own committees and religious groups and subgroups- Hindus and Muslim.
Today Indo-Fijians are just 33% of secondary age children, and just 27% of primary age children. By 2027, Indo-Fijians will be only 20% of secondary age children, and 17% of primary age groups.
By then, most Indo-Fijians schools will have been forced, out of necessity to become not just multiracial but will end up having large Fijian majorities. Already, “Indian College” and many other “Indian” schools, urgently need name changes. Indo-Fijian Percentage Shares of TotalPopulation, voters, and primary enrolments152025303540200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018201920202021202220232024202520262027YearPerc.VotersPopulationPrimary
Hopefully, this this ethnic intermingling at the primary and secondary school levels, will become the most powerful factor fostering a genuine multiracial society in Fiji, far more powerful than decrees from governments.
Governments which have historically allocated grants and subsidies on an ethnic basis to “Fijians only” schools will urgently need to set aside all such racist considerations as an even larger proportion of Fijian students will be attending “Indian” schools.
School amalgamations and rationalisation will an increasingly important agenda item for government and education authorities. Many Indian education authorities- Sanatan Dharm, Arya Samaj, Sangam, Muslim – will need to painfully rethink their focus on religious identities.
Clearly, the Ministry of Education must get precise projections of school age populations at all levels by ethnicity, level (preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary) and by rural and urban areas.
Not only is the large absolute decline in Indo-Fijian numbers going to play some interesting tricks on the national aggregate numbers at all levels (some bad news, but some goods news as well) but the massive rural:urban drift of both Fijians and Indo-Fijians will be depopulating rural schools even more.
The household wealth revolution
While ethnically focused politicians love to compare the apparent wealth of Indo-Fijian families to the poorer Fijian ones, they rarely talk about “dependency ratios”. An important one is the child dependency ratio- the proportion of children aged 0 to 14, to those aged 15 to 64- the supposedly productive age groups in most societies. A low child dependency ratio would imply a low burden on the economically productive. And conversely.
For Indo-Fijians, the child dependency ratio has dramatically fallen from over 100% at the 1966 Census, to around 32% currently, and will fall to an incredibly low 20% by 2027. But the Fijian child dependency ratio has fallen far more slowly- to only 52% currently, and expected to be a still high 45% in 2027.
So, while the Fijian child dependency ratio was only 4% higher than the Indo-Fijian ratio in 1976, the extra burden climbed rapidly to 29% higher in 1996 and same income per working adult, have had to support far more children than Indo-Fijian households, leading to lower savings ratios, lower wealth accumulation, higher proportions of children dropping out of school, and lower education expenditures per child.
Conversely, the far lower child dependency ratios of Indo-Fijians has enabled their households to save and accumulate more wealth (houses, cars, household goods etc) and have a generally more affluent life-style.
It is no wonder that Fijian households have not been able to accumulate wealth in the last four decades as have the Indo-Fijian households. A lot was to do with dependency ratios, not how hard they worked.
But there is another twist in the tail. When it comes to the elderly dependency ratio (the over 64 group relative to those 15 to 64), that for Indo-Fijians is going to rise astronomically to reach over 20% by 2027, compared to just around 10% for indigenous Fijians.
Are Indo-Fijian communities and households preparing for the day when looking after seniors will be more of a burden than looking after the children?
The Expensive 2007 Census
In 2007, Fiji tax-payers paid for a massively expensive national census exercise, the results of which are currently being processed by the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics staff. When the tables are available, basic analytical reports will be written.
These reports will throw much light on the kinds of issues we have discussed above, including the demographic parameters which will enable more accurate population projections into the future.
We have not even discussed the strange declines in life expectancies for Fijians and Indo-Fijians, males and females, over the last three decades- another bomb waiting to be examined using the 2007 data.
Is Fiji even interested in the detailed results from the 2007 Census?
Note, it is now 2010.
Read Warden Narsey's full paper