(November 2002) The number of children under age 18 in the U.S. Virgin Islands decreased 3 percent between 1990 and 2000 — from 35,427 to 34,289 (see Table 1). This decrease contrasts sharply with the 7 percent increase in the total population of the Virgin Islands between 1990 and 2000, from 101,809 to 108,612. The decrease in the number of children under age 5 — from 9,230 in 1990 to 8,553 in 2000 — accounts for over half of the overall decline in the population under age 18 during the decade.


Table 1
Total Population and Population Under Age 18 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 1990 and 2000

  1990 2000 Percent change in population
  Number Percent Number Percent
Total population 101,809 100% 108,612 100% 7%
Population under age 18 35,427 35% 34,289 32% -3%
Population under age 5 9,230 9% 8,553 8% -7%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census General Population Characteristics for the U.S. Virgin Islands; and 2000 Census Population and Housing Profile for the U.S. Virgin Islands.


While the number of children in the U.S. Virgin Islands fell between 1990 and 2000, children still make up a very high proportion of the Virgin Islands population. In 2000, 32 percent of the population in the Virgin Islands was under age 18. This represents a decrease since 1990 (from 35 percent), but the proportion of the population under age 18 is still considerably higher than the national average of 26 percent.

The fact that the U.S. Virgin Islands has a relatively large number of children has important social implications for Virgin Islands society. The "child dependency ratio" (the number of people under age 18 for every 100 people ages 18 to 64) is relatively high in the Virgin Islands (53), compared with the national average (42). The relatively large number of children in the Virgin Islands population means that providing education and social services for this vulnerable age group is likely to consume a larger share of resources. The large number of children, especially younger children, also increases the demand for child care.

The decrease in the child population in the U.S. Virgin Islands between 1990 and 2000 is closely linked to declining birth rates in the territory over the past decade. In 1990, about 17 percent of women ages 35 to 44 reported giving birth to five or more children during their lifetimes. By 2000, this share had declined to 12 percent.1 Although there is a trend toward smaller families in the Virgin Islands, large families are still more common there than they are stateside. In 2000, only about 3 percent of U.S. women ages 35 to 44 had given birth to five or more children during their lifetimes.2

Falling birth rates are often associated with increases in female educational attainment and rising ages at marriage. However, the limited data currently available from the 2000 Census do not provide enough information to determine the specific causes of the declining birth rates in the Virgin Islands.

Child Poverty Rate Far Above Rate in U.S.

While the national economy grew at a record pace in the 1990s, contributing to the lowest child poverty rate in over 20 years, the economic conditions for children and families in the U.S. Virgin Islands deteriorated. While the total number of children declined between 1990 and 2000, the number of children living in families with incomes below the poverty line grew from 12,722 to 14,103, an 11 percent increase (see Table 2). The percentage of children in poor families increased from 37 percent in 1989 to 42 percent in 1999. The 1999 child poverty rate in the Virgin Islands was lower than the child poverty rate in neighboring Puerto Rico (58 percent), but far exceeded the child poverty rate in any U.S. state or the District of Columbia.3


Table 2
Children and Families Below Poverty Level in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 1989 and 1999

  1989 1999  
  Number below poverty Percent below poverty Number below poverty Percent below poverty Percent change in number below poverty
Related children under age 18 12,722 37% 14,103 42% 11%
Under age 5 3,458 38% 3,809 45% 10%
Ages 5 to 17 9,264 36% 10,294 41% 11%
Families 5,349 23% 7,635 29% 43%
With related children under age 18 4,438 29% 5,862 35% 32%
With related children under age 5 2,258 34% 2,637 41% 17%
Female-headed families 3,129 41% 4,521 45% 44%
With related children under age 18 2,817 46% 3,863 49% 37%
With related children under age 5 1,458 54% 1,795 57% 23%

Note: Poverty thresholds vary by family size and composition. In 1999, the poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children was $16,895. Poverty status is not determined for people in military barracks or institutional quarters, or for unrelated individuals under age 15. Related children include people under age 18 related to the householder (excluding spouses).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census Social and Economic Characteristics for the U.S. Virgin Islands; and 2000 Census Population and Housing Profile for the U.S. Virgin Islands.


The percentage of families living in poverty also increased, from 23 percent in 1989 to 29 percent in 1999. For families with young children (under age 5), poverty rates were even higher. The overall poverty rate for families increased, in part, because of the increase in the number of female-headed families from 1990 to 2000.

Female-headed families in poverty became a more important issue in the Virgin Islands between 1990 and 2000 for two reasons: The number of poor, female-headed families with children rose significantly (37 percent), and the rate of poverty among female-headed families increased (from 41 percent to 45 percent). Slightly less than half (49 percent) of female-headed families with children were living in poverty in 1999, compared with 46 percent in 1989. Female-headed families with children under age 5 were the most likely to be poor in 1999, at 57 percent.


References

  1. U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census Social and Economic Characteristics for the U.S. Virgin Islands, accessed at www.census.gov/population/
    www/proas/pr_ia_pr.html (July 31, 2002); and 2000 Census Population and Housing Profile for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, Fertility of American Women, accessed at www.census.gov/population/socdemo/fertility/p20-543/tab01.xls (July 18, 2002): table 1.
  3. In 1999, the U.S. poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children was $16,895. Poverty guidelines include higher income thresholds for Hawaii and Alaska, but are not adjusted for U.S. territories. "It is probable that poverty in the U.S. Virgin Islands is underestimated based on a higher cost of living for noncontiguous territories," according to the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands KIDS COUNT Data Book 2001 (2002): 6.

Excerpted from the PRB/KIDS COUNT report A First Look at Children in the U.S. Virgin Islands (PDF: 436KB).