Costa Rica is poised to reach its next big population milestone in just a few years. Costa Rica will reach a population of 5 million by 2018, according to estimates from the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC). INEC and Casa Presidencial warned that there are some growing pains ahead for the country as it approaches.
The small Central American country has seen its population grow exponentially since it reached 1 million in 1953. Between 1864 and 1953 it took 89 years for Costa Rica’s population to reach 1 million; 24 years to reach 2 million in 1977; and 12 years to reach 3 million in 1989. The time between million-person milestones continued to telescope as Costa Rica reached 4 million in 11 years in 2000.
Since then, the country’s population has continued to grow, albeit at a slightly slower rate. If the estimates are correct, it will take 18 years for the country to reach the 5-million benchmark.
Costa Rica’s current population is 4.8 million, slightly higher than the metro area of Boston, Massachusetts, according to 2014 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
A growing population brings challenges for the country too.
Traffic is one complication that most living in Costa Rica are already well versed in. According to insurance figures, car ownership is estimated to rise 15 percent, eventually reaching 1.4 million vehicles on the country’s overburdened roads. The highway and road system, however, is only projected to grow by 5 percent, counting new construction as well as expansions and repairs to existing roads.
As population growth slows, the tax burden to support a larger group of retired workers falls on a smaller workforce. The government anticipates the number of retirees to rise by 11.6 percent more than the general workforce in the coming years. Retirees who receive non-contributory pensions are expected to increase by 10.6 percent more than the general workforce.
Additionally, Costa Rica faces “unprecedented” unemployment levels—10.1 percent as of March, according to INEC—but the labor force is expected to grow by 9 percent, far above the 3.8 percent estimated population growth.