Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Barbados had an estimated population of 255,500 in 1987. Population density was 593 persons per square kilometer; slightly over one-third of the populace lived in urban areas. Annual population growth remained relatively low in the 1980s, averaging between 0.2 and 0.8 percent. In 1987 it was 0.6 percent. In spite of this success, Barbados remained the most densely populated country in the Eastern Caribbean. The primary reason for Barbados' small population growth was the government's ability to implement a nationwide family planning program that served to maintain a crude birth rate of 17 per 1,000 inhabitants for the 1980-86 period.

In the past, emigration played a large role in stabilizing Barbados' population. From the end of World War II until the 1970s, Barbados exported its unemployed, as did the Windward Islands. Between 1946 and 1980, its rate of population growth was diminished by one-third because of emigration to Britain. The United States replaced Britain as the primary destination of emigrants in the 1960s because of Britain's restriction on West Indian immigration.

In spite of continued emigration, Barbados began to experience a net inflow of workers in 1970, most coming from other Eastern Caribbean islands. By 1980 demographic figures began to stabilize because migration to Barbados had lessened, probably for economic reasons, and a relatively small natural population growth rate had been achieved. By the mid-1980s, expected real growth rates, adjusted for migration, remained below 1 percent.

Ethnically, Barbados' population was dominated by descendants of African slaves. At emancipation in the late 1830s, the size of the slave population was approximately 83,000, three times that of the entire slave population in the Windward Islands. By the 1980s, distribution of ethnic groups was typical of the Eastern Caribbean; 90 percent of the population was black, 5 percent mulatto, and 5 percent white.

Race largely defined social position in Barbados. The majority of whites still held a disproportionate amount of economic wealth in the 1980s and significantly influenced national politics through their control of business enterprises. Blacks constituted both the middle and the lower classes.

In the 1980s, there was still a displaced social subgroup of extremely poor whites in Barbados who had not been fully assimilated into society. Descendants of the white labor class that had emigrated from Britain in the early colonial period, they had quickly been replaced as an economic group by African slaves, who had been brought to the New World as an inexpensive source of labor. Known as "Red Legs," the subgroup lived off the sea and subsistence agriculture and eventually became entrenched social outcasts, who had little expectation of becoming members of modern society (see The Sugar Revolutions and Slavery, ch. 1).

Barbados inherited from the British a stratified society with a strong sense of class consciousness; Barbadian aspirations to reach the next rung of the social and economic ladder partially explain the industriousness of the population. Individual pride is clearly associated with economic status and has been cited as a reason for Barbados' early economic success, which surpassed that of the Windward Islands.

Religion in Barbados was also influenced by the British. The first colonizers established the Anglican Church in Barbados, where it quickly assumed a position of dominance. Alternative religions were subsequently provided by Moravian and Methodist groups. Although Anglicans were still the dominant religious group in the early 1980s, they constituted only 31 percent of the population. The Church of God and the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches each claimed to minister to between 3 and 4 percent of the population. The remainder belonged to other religions or professed no religious affiliation.

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Barbados.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress