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Migration, population change and socio-economic development in the Cook Islands Hayes, Geoffrey Robert


This study examines the interrelationships between migration patterns, population change, and socio-economic development in the Cook Islands of the south Pacific during the period 1966-80. Socio-economic "development" is defined as: (1) economic growth; (2) increasing social complexity; (3) an improvement in the physical quality of life. Two models of the relationship between migration and socio-economic development were extracted from the theoretical literature: one suggests that migration brings a range of socio-economic benefits to the "sending" society; the other claims that migration is costly to the sending society and is likely to promote its "underdevelopment". The effects of migration on population growth, age structure and sex balance, geographical distribution, labor force size and quality, during the post self-government period 1966-80, are examined in detail. The effects of these changes on the three dimensions of socio-economic development are explored and some of the monetary "costs" and "benefits" of migration are estimated. The net crude rate of emigration for the period was 27.3/1000 for the population as a whole, and 32.2/1000 for the Maori component taken separately. This rate of out-flow has reduced the average annual growth rate from a potential 3.2% to an actual rate of -0.6% over the 1966-76 intercensal period. The population has declined overall by 5.9% over the same period and some islands have dropped by as much as 55%. While most migrants are under 40 years of age, high fertility in the past means that the majority of the population is also under this age. Disproportionate migration occurs principally in the age range 15-24. The "working age" population of the Cook Islands as a whole declined by 2.6%; some islands did maintain a static labor force, however, while in others the labor force declined. No evidence was found to indicate that emigration improves the dependency burden or the sex ratio. Where the dependency ratio has improved, this can be attributed to declining fertility. A higher proportion of the population is concentrated on the main island of Rarotonga, but "urbanization" has actually decreased as a result of differential emigration by district. While it is clear that the demographic and socio-economic impact of migration varies from region to region, and island to island, the overall effect on the "development" of the Cook Islands has been negative. The period of large-scale emigration was accompanied by falling real GDP per capita and in total, declining production for export, and the loss of both social capital and occupational skills. The physical quality of life has improved over the period, but the rate of improvement has fallen-off as emigration increased in the mid 1970s. Remittance income from migrants abroad has increased as a proportion of total per capita income, leading to greater "dependency" on an external economy. Structural complexity has increased to a degree on Rarotonga, but some of the outer islands show signs of structural "devolution" and economic decline. It is argued that the declining population of the Cook Islands will tend to exacerbate the already severe problems of small scale and geographical dispersion in the micro-economy of the Cook Islands and will add considerable uncertainty to the processes of development planning. In the short-term dependency will probably increase as more foreign aid will be required to operate the political-administrative system.

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