Urbanization and Occupational Change

Cyprus Table of Contents

Cyprus experienced a rapid and intense economic transformation after World War II. The traditional economy of subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry was replaced by a commercial economy, centered in expanding urban areas. These economic changes resulted from extensive construction of housing and other facilities for British military personnel during World War II; exports of minerals (60 percent of all exports), which became the island's most valuable export in the 1950s; and the fourteenfold increase in British military spending through the postwar period. (Cyprus became Britain's most important base in the eastern Mediterranean after the loss of bases in the Arab countries.) Independence brought such an acceleration of economic development, the so-called "economic explosion," that by the end of the 1960s the objectives of the government's economic planning were not only fulfilled, but overtaken.

In this context of economic growth, agriculture modernized, farm machinery became common, irrigation increased, and the scientific use of pesticides and fertilizers became widespread, but farming became less important in the economy as a whole. Although agricultural income tripled during the 1950s, and then doubled in the 1960s, earnings from industry, construction, trade, tourism, and telecommunications grew even more, and agriculture's share of the gross domestic product (GDP) declined. This decline brought with it changes in employment for many. The increasing fragmentation of farms through inheritance and a shortage of water caused Cypriots to leave farming for full-time or part-time jobs in other economic sectors. The proximity of employment opportunities in urban areas only made the transition easier.

The flight from agriculture, which became noticeable in the decade and a half after World War II, continued after independence and reached a peak in 1974, when the best and most productive agricultural land fell under Turkish occupation. In 1960, some 40.3 percent of the economically active population were agricultural workers; in 1973, the figure were down to 33.6 percent employed in this sector. In 1988 government figures estimated only 13.9 percent of the work force earned a living from farming full time. Although changes in accounting principles are the cause of some of this decline, the decline of agricultural employment since the late 1940s was striking.

Urbanization in Cyprus did not result in the annihilation of traditional values and practices, but in their preservation. Urbanization took place under conditions that generally spared the island the problems often connected with migration of large numbers of unemployed farm workers to urban centers. For one thing, urbanization occurred in a period of prosperity and increasing economic activity, and employment was available. In addition, farm workers generally left their villages only when they had found work in urban areas. Another happy circumstance was that the island's small size and its good road system linked most villages to the towns, so that many rural workers could commute daily to their new jobs. The capital and largest city was especially well connected to the countryside. Finally, rural migrants unable to afford housing in Nicosia and other towns were able to settle in nearby villages, a circumstance that reduced the likelihood of slums.

Many migrants regarded access to secondary education as a principal reason for moving to the city. While traditional Cypriot agricultural society valued land above all else and considered education a wasteful luxury, a modern and diversified economy made education a necessity. Migrants came to value education as the principal means of improving their material and social positions. Expansion of education contributed immensely to the dissemination of urban values and organizations to rural Cyprus.

Postwar population redistribution in Cyprus was so extensive that most urban dwellers were born in rural areas. These migrants maintained close ties with the countryside, and many owned plots of land in their places of origin. The satisfaction of owning land went beyond increasing property values, a fact that is easy to understand in Cypriots, who were an agricultural people until just a generation ago.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress