Recent changes in vital rates in Fiji suggest that the Melanesian (MF) component of the population is growing faster than the Indian (IF) component, thus reversing a long-standing demographic trend.
Patterns of family building were studied in the respondent families of 302 MF and 324 IF children at school in the capital, Suva. Melanesian families were larger than IF families, even when corrected for differences in maternal age and social class. Particularly among IF families, there was a significant effect of social class on family size, higher status families having fewer children. Among all groups there was evidence of a secular trend to earlier childbearing and, less clearly, to an earlier cessation of childbearing. Among both races age-specific fertility levels were similar in younger age-groups, but older IF mothers showed significantly lower fertility.
It is suggested that among IF families, who form a more urbanized and commercially/industrially oriented segment of the Fijian population, two factors may account for the reduction in fertility: (i) pressure to limit population growth in the interests of racial harmony; and (ii) economic pressure resulting in a demographic transition. The latter suggestion is supported by the fact that the greatest decrease in fertility occurs among high status families. Among MFs the reduction in fertility has been less, due probably to the absence of a ‘racial harmony’ incentive and also to a lesser economic stimulus.