Cuba faces a crossroads of social and economic policies brought on by a population that is getting older and fewer in numbers, the subject of a new study that for the first time reveals the details of living conditions for people over 60.

In the last 25 years, aging on the island increased by 6.5 percent, and in 2010 the elderly population was greater that the number of Cubans between 0 and 14 years of age, representing 17.8 percent of the total 11.2 million inhabitants.

A study by the National Statistics Office, or ONE, estimates that by 2025 there will be 203,000 fewer Cubans than today and that their average age will have risen from 38 to 44. By 2030 the number of seniors will have increased to 3.3 million.

The director of ONE's Center for Population and Demographic Studies, Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, told Efe that the national study is the first to produce such information and is considered "an indispensable tool for taking decisions" in Cuba.

According to the survey, one out of every two elderly Cubans "feels fear or uncertainty" about their health and economic situation.

In rating their standard of living according to their incomes, 60 percent of those polled spoke of "deprivations" and a lack of resources.

Some 71.2 percent said their incomes come from retirement benefits or a pension, while 15 percent receive "help from relatives living in Cuba or abroad."

An estimated 54 percent of Cubans over 60 are effectively retired.

According to the data, elderly Cubans fundamentally cover their medical expenses and utilities like electricity, gas and water with the help of state subsidies, but only 44 percent can pay for all the food they need.

In general, the study says that Cuba presents a "very low population growth" with fertility rates below the replacement level, low infant mortality, long life expectancy - 78 years - and no net immigration.

The government of President Raul Castro has expressed its concern about the situation, and as early as 2008 Parliament approved a new Social Security law that raised the minimum retirement age by five years, to 60 for women and 65 for men, and modified the method of calculating pensions.

The package of economic reforms that Gen. Castro is pushing as a "modernization" of socialism includes measures aimed at linking pensions and salaries to productivity.

The reforms also contemplate the gradual elimination of "unjustified gratuities and excessive subsidies," the reduction of state payrolls and the opening of the private sector in order to concentrate state resources and use them for the people who most need them.

But Cuba must primarily deal with the tough economic challenges of a labor force declining in numbers due to an aging population, which in turn means skyrocketing medical and social costs.

On a brighter note, the great majority of elderly on the island have living sons and daughters and say they live in pleasant surroundings at home, occupying positions of "greater hierarchy."

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