Central Bank of Barbados
Last Updated: 18-Dec-2007
Country Information  

Barbados - Vital Statistics

  • Population  266,800,
  • Per capita income US$7,350
  • Literacy rate of 97.6%
  • Life expectancy rate of 76.4 years
  • Infant mortality rate of 11 per 10000

Barbados has the demographic profile of a developed country. The latest UNDP Human Development Index, based on the three criteria of national income, education and health, places Barbados 29th of the more than 150 countries surveyed, and fourth among developing countries.

The Barbadian dollar, which was fixed at Bds.$2.00 = US$1.00 on July 05, 1975 retains the same value today.

Quality of life

  • Income is more equitably distributed than in most countries.
  • Highly developed infrastructure of highways, seaport and airport.
  • Total availability of electricity, water and telecommunications services.
  • Well developed national security safety net for the disadvantaged
  • A relatively low crime rate
  • Virtual absence of social and political unrest.
  • Civil and democratic rights, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or gender, are deeply entrenched in Barbadian society.


Archaeological evidence indicates that prior to 1625 the island had been inhabited by the Arawaks and Caribs but there was apparently no sign of them when the English arrived. However, later research has indicated that Caribs from neighbouring islands settled in small colonies in St. Phillip and St. Lucy. The early settlers, in order to survive, needed a cash crop and they selected tobacco, with cotton in second place. Poor economic returns convinced them that they had to find an alternative and this time sugar cane was selected.

This proved to be another mistake for the small farmer. Sugar production is capital and labour intensive and the financial outlay required to make it viable could not be met by the small man. Soon the small farmers were forced out of production and in the 1640's gave way to the large plantation owner.

This switch from tobacco and cotton to sugar is probably the single most important event in the history of Barbados, for it brought with it a number of far-reaching changes. It saw the consolidation of land holdings into large estates and the end of the small farmers; the end of the indentured European labourers and the drastic reduction of the white population; and the large scale importation of black slaves from Africa, who provided plantation labour until their emancipation in 1838.

Over the centuries the fortunes of the planters varied with the times. The effects of the succession of wars in which Britain was engaged; the move in 1820 from protectionism to free trade, and by mid-century to the equalization of sugar duties for British and foreign grown sugar; the effect of beet sugar competition and the fall in sugar prices; these combined factors resulted in economic distress for all.

Economic distress in 1896 prompted investigation by a Royal Commission. However, it was not until the unrest in 1937 that the seriousness of the island's economic state was fully appreciated. The Moyne Commission which carried out investigations after the unrest made a number of recommendations which were accepted and assistance was given in the form of grants and loans. There was continued evidence that sugar had to be helped and sugar growers received additional aid in 1951 with the signing of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. This remained in force until Britain's entry into the European Economic Community.

Local Government

Local government was in operation for sometime until 1969. When it was introduced , each parish had its own local government system called the Vestry. The vestries were later abolished and the island divided into three areas - two districts served by councils and the third, the City of Bridgetown was given a City Council and a Mayor.

In 1967 the councils were abolished and local government affairs were administered by an Interim Commissioner for Local Government. Two years later the system ended, when the functions of the local government service were transferred to central government and statutory boards.

Political and Constitutional

In 1639 the first representative body was formed when elected members from among the freeholders sat as a legislative body. When in 1645 the island was divided into 11 parishes, each parish had two representatives.

The old representative form of government remained unchanged for centuries. The majority of the population was excluded from participating in public affairs because political franchise was based on ownership of land. Thus it was not until the introduction of universal adult suffrage that the political system ceased to be dominated by the planter and merchant classes. In fact the vote was not given to persons of colour until 1831 and it was another nine years before one sat in the legislature.

Political awakening of the black population was noticeable in the 1920's and crystallised in the formation of the Democratic League by Charles Duncan O'Neal. But it was after the Civil disturbances in 1937 that the modern-type political party surfaced. This first party, the Barbados Labour Party, dominated political life until 1961 when it fell to the Democratic Labour Party, a splinter group which had broken away from the Barbados Labour Party in 1955.

The Leader of the BLP, Grantley (later Sir Grantley) Adams, became the first Premier of Barbados and achieved significant social and constitutional reforms. He eventually led Barbados into a West Indian Federation in 1958 and became the first and only Prime Minister of the West Indies. This venture failed in 1962 and Barbados proceeded to full Independence on November 30, 1966 under the then Premier, Errol Walton Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party . Mr. Barrow later became the island's first Prime Minister.

The Barbados Labour Party took the reins of government again, when in the General Elections of 1976 and 1981 it was led to power by Mr. J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams, son of Sir Grantley.

Mr. Harold Bernard "Bree" St. John, Deputy Prime Minister, took up the leadership of the Barbados Labour Party and the office of Prime Minister following the death of Mr. Adams on March 11, 1985.

In 1986 the Democratic Labour Party regained the government under the leadership of Mr. Errol Barrow. Prime Minister Barrow's death in 1987 saw his deputy, Mr. Erskine Sandiford becoming the country's fourth Prime Minister. Mr. Erskine Sandiford led the Democratic Labour Party to power in the 1991 elections. Mr. Owen Arthur led the Barbados Labour Party to victory in the 1994 elections. He is now Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.


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