Facts about Jamaica

World Facts Index > Jamaica > Kingston

JamaicaThe island - discovered by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain, and in 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.

Geography of Jamaica

Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba
18 15 N, 77 30 W
total: 10,991 sq km
land: 10,831 sq km
water: 160 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly smaller than Connecticut
Land boundaries:
0 km
1,022 km
Maritime claims:
measured from claimed archipelagic baselines
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
continental shelf: 200 NM or to edge of the continental margin
contiguous zone: 24 NM
tropical; hot, humid; temperate interior
mostly mountains, with narrow, discontinuous coastal plain
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Blue Mountain Peak 2,256 m
Natural resources:
bauxite, gypsum, limestone
Natural hazards:
hurricanes (especially July to November)
Environment current issues:
heavy rates of deforestation; coastal waters polluted by industrial waste, sewage, and oil spills; damage to coral reefs; air pollution in Kingston results from vehicle emissions
Geography - note:
strategic location between Cayman Trench and Jamaica Channel, the main sea lanes for the Panama Canal

Population of Jamaica

2,804,332 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 33.1% (male 464,297/female 449,181)
15-64 years: 59.6% (male 808,718/female 835,394)
65 years and over: 7.3% (male 90,100/female 110,434)
Median age:
23 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
15.98 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 73.24 years
male: 71.54 years
female: 75.03 years
Fertility rate:
2.41 children born/woman
noun: Jamaican(s)
adjective: Jamaican
Ethnic groups:
black 90.9%, East Indian 1.3%, white 0.2%, Chinese 0.2%, mixed 7.3%, other 0.1%
Protestant 61.3% (Church of God 21.2%, Baptist 8.8%, Anglican 5.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 9%, Pentecostal 7.6%, Methodist 2.7%, United Church 2.7%, Brethren 1.1%, Jehovah's Witness 1.6%, Moravian 1.1%), Roman Catholic 4%, other including some spiritual cults 34.7%
English, patois English
definition: age 15 and over has ever attended school
total population: 87.9%
male: 84.1%
female: 91.6% 


Government type:
constitutional parliamentary democracy
Administrative divisions:
14 parishes; Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston, Manchester, Portland, Saint Andrew, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Saint Mary, Saint Thomas, Trelawny, Westmoreland
note: for local government purposes, Kingston and Saint Andrew were amalgamated in 1923 into the present single corporate body known as the Kingston and Saint Andrew Corporation
6 August 1962 (from UK)
National holiday:
Independence Day, first Monday in August (1962)
6 August 1962
Legal system:
based on English common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Kenneth O. HALL (since 15 February 2006)
head of government: Prime Minister Bruce GOLDING (since 11 September 2007)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister
elections: the monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition in the House of Representatives is appointed prime minister by the governor general; the deputy prime minister is recommended by the prime minister.
Legislative branch:
bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate (a 21-member body appointed by the governor general on the recommendations of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition; ruling party is allocated 13 seats, and the opposition is allocated eight seats) and the House of Representatives (60 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms).
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court (judges appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister); Court of Appeal


The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60% of GDP. The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Remittances account for nearly 20% of GDP and are equivalent to tourism revenues. Jamaica's economy, already saddled with a record of sluggish growth, will suffer an economic setback from damages caused by Hurricane Dean in August 2007. The economy faces serious long-term problems: high but declining interest rates, increased foreign competition, exchange rate instability, a sizable merchandise trade deficit, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 135%. Jamaica's onerous debt burden - the fourth highest per capita - is the result of government bailouts to ailing sectors of the economy, most notably the financial sector in the mid-to-late 1990s. Inflation also has declined, standing at about 7% at the end of 2007. High unemployment exacerbates the serious crime problem, including gang violence that is fueled by the drug trade. The GOLDING administration faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments while simultaneously attacking a serious and growing crime problem that is hampering economic growth.

$20.48 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 4.9%
industry: 33.7%
services: 61.5%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
1.2 million
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 19.3%
industry: 16.6%
services: 64.1%
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 96.8%
hydro: 1.8%
other: 1.4%
nuclear: 0%
tourism, bauxite/alumina, agro processing, light manufactures, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products, telecommunications
sugarcane, bananas, coffee, citrus, yams, ackees, vegetables; poultry, goats, milk; crustaceans, mollusks
alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, rum, coffee, yams, beverages, chemicals, wearing apparel, mineral fuels
Export partners:
US 18.1%, France 15.8%, Canada 15.1%, China 9.8%, UK 8.2%, Norway 6.5%, Netherlands 6.3%, Germany 5.4% 
food and other consumer goods, industrial supplies, fuel, parts and accessories of capital goods, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials
Import partners:
US 39.6%, Trinidad and Tobago 13.7%, France 4.6%
Jamaican dollar (JMD)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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