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Demographic instability in the pacific island territories

Matoto, O. A. (1971) Demographic instability in the pacific island territories. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The main purpose of this thesis is to show that demographic instability is a feature of the populations of the Pacific island territories. Fluctuations in mortality, fertility and migration are expected to produce fluctuations in population numbers and growth rates, as well as changes in the age-sex structures and ethnic compositions. Moreover, because the populations are small instability could easily be the result of random fluctuations. The first chapter seeks to describe the characteristics of island populations, and here it is conjectured that instability could have been a feature of the pre-contact populations owing to migrations and probably alternating periods of growth and decimation once population growth reached an optimum. European contact was characterised by population decline at varying rates between and within island territories. The main cause of this decline was high mortality which was primarily the result of epidemics and diseases although wars, blackbirding, labour recruiting and infanticide contributed. Probably the unsettling effects of contact between two different cultures had something to do with this decline but it is often exaggerated as the main cause. In some islands out-migration was the main cause of population decline. The cessation of population decline also varied between and within the island territories but by the late 1940's all were showing population growth which accelerated in the 1950's and 1960's, except where emigration was significant. Growth has been due to the reduction of mortality to very low levels and rise infertility. European contact also stimulated population movements which led to the disappearance of the dispersed form of settlement and the emergence of today's nucleated villages. Urban areas grew up mostly around the focal points of initial contact and trade. Population growth and decline, have also affected population distribution, although population densities are still very much higher in the atolls. The ethnic composition of the area of study has also changed since western penetration and a visible sign is the rapid increase of the mixed-blood population in Polynesia. In chapters two and three the trends and the variations in the levels of mortality and fertility between and within territories are discussed. Through the miracles of public health and the cheap methods of mass immunization the incidence of the common debilitating diseases has been either reduced considerably or completely eradicated. Within a short space of time mortality has been reduced to very low levels comparable to those in developed countries, and life expectancy has risen rapidly. High fertility necessary for survival persisted and within 30 years explosive population growth has become the main welfare problem. To reduce rapid population growth family planning has been initiated, but generally it is still along way from being very effective in reducing high fertility. The trends in migration are studied in chapter four and it is found that the nature and character of migration into, within and out of the island territories have changed since European contact. Asian immigration has virtually ceased since the 1930's and although immigrants of European origin are increasing they are mostly temporary migrants. Inter-territorial migration has been partly revived in the 1960's but it is unlikely to be significant. Emigration from the island territories to metropolitan countries is increasing, although it is significant for certain territories only. Within island territories, in-migration to the port towns and main islands is increasing, and it is producing social problems as well as being detrimental to well-planned economic development. Emigration is no solution to rapid population growth and only the very small territories would be able to get relief from it. Neither will population redistribution within and between island territories be feasible. Finally, in chapter five the fluctuations in population growth and numbers, and the changes in the age-sex structures and ethnic compositions effected by the changing trends in mortality, fertility and migrations are discussed. Within the area considered in this study are different types of population structures and processes which are the products of complex interrelations of milieu, culture and political and economic structures with human reproduction, survival and migration. Because the populations are small demographic changes are rapid and have deep impact and repercussions. It is possible that the rapid decline of fertility in Fiji in the 1960's could presage the beginning of similar trends in other territories which will produce, in addition to migration where significant, further changes in population growth, age-sex structures and ethnic compositions. In view of the growing population pressure on limited resources it is hoped that the transition to low fertility will not only come soon through family limitation but also as rapidly as the transition from high to low mortality.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1971
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:35

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