In Martinique, young people leave, seniors stay

Fishermen pull a net out of the sea in Sainte-Marie, Martinique.

As the sun rises in the sky, the heat quickly gets heavy on the streets of the Cité Union district, a maze of alleyways and low-rise houses not far from the city center of Sainte-Marie in Martinique and the coast, where the waves roll in big Atlantic Ocean. But the weather is still fine under Paul Joly’s tin porch. “I started going to sea when I was 13”, says this retired fisherman. For five decades he would set out in his boat at dawn to fish for snapper, sea bream and even sea urchins. “No one wanted lobster back then! We gave it to customers who bought a kilo or two of fish.”She remembers the affable seventies laugh.

That morning, as he had almost every day for many years, Paul Joly received a visit from Casimir Elius Pomier, his 86-year-old widowed neighbor who had come to talk. “I am all alone: ​​I have three children and they all went to France [métropolitaine] »this former farmhand loses the tone of resignation. “That makes me twenty grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but they are far away”he laments, in French mixed with Creole.

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Casimir Pomier’s case is anything but an isolated case. In fact, Martinique has long been a country of emigration, but the phenomenon has increased and in the last fifteen years the area has been depopulated due to a negative migratory balance. Every year several thousand young Martinicans leave their island to continue their studies or to find work, mainly in mainland France. With a population decline of 0.9% per year between 2013 and 2019, according to INSEE, this overseas territory is the French region that has suffered the most demographic decline during this period.

demographic challenge

This exodus of life forces is leading to an accelerated aging of the population. According to INSEE, between 2016 and 2030, the proportion of people over 60 will continue to grow rapidly, increasing from 25% to 40% of the total population. On that date, seniors in Martinique are said to outnumber young people under the age of 20 by twice.

This demographic challenge, which some call a crisis, is hitting some areas of the island harder than others. While the population in the Fort-de-France region remains in the center of the island, the more rural and mountainous north of the department is experiencing accelerated depopulation. In this sector, the city of Sainte-Marie has lost 4,000 inhabitants or 20% of its population in just fifteen years. This large agricultural town had a population of just 15,500 in 2019.

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