The Demographic Footprint of Economic Development: The Case of Two Cycladian Islands

The Demographic Footprint of Economic Development: The Case of Two Cycladian Islands

Vasilis S. Gavalas (Department of Geopraphy, University of the Aegean, Mytilene, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsesd.2014100105
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This paper examines the dynamic relationship between economic development and the demographics of population for a group of islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, namely the Cyclades, in the period 1860-2011. This period covers the greatest part of demographic transition, which for the Cyclades started in the mid-nineteenth century. In every stage of the transition, the changes in mortality and fertility levels tended to destabilise the relationship between population and the limited resources of the islands. Migration is the key factor in understanding the demographic regime of these islands. Either negative or positive (emigration or immigration), population mobility has always been and still is the element that regulates natural increase and determines the real increase of the population. Whenever rates of natural increase were too high, emigration acted as a counterbalancing factor by taking population away from the islands, while when rates of natural increase reached very low levels from the 1970s onwards due to low fertility, immigration came as a substitute. Two of the Cyclades islands, namely Paros and Naxos, are used as cases studies for a closer focus on these islands during the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century and especially in the period 1951-2011.
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1. Introduction

The term demographic regime is commonly used to describe the dynamic relationship between a population and its environment. This relationship determines the standard of living, the quality of life and the very survival of the population. A central concern for those who study demographic regimes is to observe the different ways in which nuptiality, fertility, mortality and migration may combine to keep the size of a given population in pace with the available resources of its ecosystem (Woods 2000:381).

The problem of population size was already from the 18th century related with food production, as we know it today. Indisputably, one of the most influential figures who concerned himself with the question of population and resources was the English economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), whose theories still exert an influence in contemporary population studies. He was the main representative of the pessimistic view about population in the 19th century. His central idea was that, when a population is unimpeded its growth rate presents geometrical increase, while resources grow by arithmetical increase only. Food shortage leads to increased food prices and thus real incomes are depressed. This situation brings about “misery” and “vice”, which tend to raise mortality and constitute what Malthus called the “positive” check of population growth. Consequently, population growth is restrained either by the “positive” check of high mortality from disease, war or famine or by the “preventive” check of late marriage (and abstinence before it). The main preoccupation of the “Principle of population”, as Malthus called his theory, and the one which made it pessimistic, was that population will reach the maximum level of available resources in a very short time (Malthus 1970).

Although Malthus’ model was regarded as a naturalistic interpretation of the lower class degradation in the period of industrial revolution in England, it dominated the studies of demographic regimes and is still considered a classical interpretative framework especially for pre-transitional populations. Nevertheless, Malthus’ model may have some relevance only in a closed population system, that is in a population where migration does not play an important role. In the case of islands, migration has always been an essential element of their demography, and therefore Malthus’ model cannot be used to describe their demographic system. The fact that migration is integral part of island demography had been observed by early geographers. It is characteristic what one of them wrote at the beginning of the 20th century: “A small cup soon overflows. Islands may not keep; they are forced to give, live by giving. Herein lies their historical significance” (Semple 1911: 299 quoted in Connell and King 1999:3).

Yet, islands, as crossroads of sea roots, not only export people but also receive. There are a lot of examples of crossroads islands: Syros in the middle of the Aegean archipelago, Mauritius in the western entrance of the Indian Ocean and Malta at the navel of the Mediterranean are only few examples of islands that, because of their geo-political importance, experienced huge immigration in different periods and developed cosmopolitan and polyglot populations (Connell and King 1993).

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