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People, Population Patterns

mainland United States, fifths, Puerto Ricans, death rates, number of births

Puerto Rico’s rate of population increase has fluctuated considerably throughout its history, based largely on how many Puerto Ricans had emigrated from the island to the mainland United States. Generally they went to the mainland to seek better economic opportunities. The rate of natural population increase, which occurs when the number of births exceeds the number of deaths, almost doubled between 1899 and 1950. However, it fell during the 1990s as people relied more on various forms of birth control.

While life expectancy rates in Puerto Rico have improved significantly in recent years, Puerto Rico still has lower rates than the U.S. mainland. In 2002 life expectancy rates in Puerto Rico were 71.5 years for males and 80.7 years for females. This compares to 74.5 years for males and 80.20 years for females on the U.S. mainland. These differences can be attributed to high rates of poverty on the island, especially in the rural areas, and a system of medical care that received little attention until the late 20th century.

In recent years Puerto Rico’s age structure changed as the medical care system improved. As death rates declined, the proportion of the population over 65 years of age increased, almost doubling between 1940 and 1970, from 3.4 percent of the total to 6.5 percent. In 2002 people over 65 years of age made up 10.7 percent of the population. However, the proportion of children under 15 remained fairly constant at about 25 percent. In 2001, about two-fifths of the population was either under 19 or over 65.

The gender structure of the population has changed somewhat in recent years as well. The number of males per 100 females has declined from about 101 in 1940 and 1950 to 93 in 2002. This decrease is largely because women lived longer lives while many males left the island to seek better economic opportunities on the U.S. mainland.

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