The Bahamas is a nation comprised of 700 islands. It is a near neighbor to Puerto Rico, and was visited by Christopher Columbus just as Puerto Rico was. The Bahamas chose independence in 1973 after several hundred years as a colony of Great Britain. The Bahamas has a larger land mass than Puerto Rico and a much smaller population. Puerto Rico has ten times the population per square mile as the Bahamas. Of course, they are geographically very different, since the Bahamas is a collection of small islands.
Spain ruled the Bahamas for a couple of centuries. British settlers arrived in 1649 and began trade with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the following century, pirates were a scourge in the Bahamas until 1718, when the British government cracked down on them. The Bahamas were involved in the fighting in the Revolutionary War, since Nassau was a British port. After the American Revolution, British loyalists left the U.S. for the Bahamas and by 1783 they had become entrenched, generally replacing the Spanish settlers. Slavery was outlawed in 1834.
The slave trade was a major industry, and today some 85% of the population in the Bahamas can trace their heritage to enslaved people.
In the 20th century, the Bahamas developed a tourism industry, with 82% of visitors coming from the United States. Offshore financial services are the other major industry in the Bahamas.
The Bahamas gained home rule in 1964 and drafted a constitution of their own in 1969. In 1972, they voted for independence, but chose to remain as members of the British Commonwealth, an organization made up of former British colonies which still consider the King of England their symbolic head of state. In 1973, the Bahamas declared independence while remaining members of the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom maintains a strong relationship with the Bahamas.
Is Puerto Rico more prosperous than the Bahamas? It’s not completely clear.
The population sizes of the Bahamas and Puerto Rico are so different that it is best to compare the GDP per 1,000 inhabitants. That’s $31.46 for the Bahamas and $35.21 for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a higher rate of exports. The Bahamas has a poverty rate of 12.5% compared with Puerto Rico’s 46%, but the unemployment rate in the Bahamas is 10%, compared with 6% in Puerto Rico.
The average income in the Bahamas is higher than in Puerto Rico — $31,530 and $24,560 respectively — but the cost of living in the Bahamas is also significantly higher than in Puerto Rico. The two are very similar in the availability of telecommunications and overall quality of life.
As far as prosperity goes, it may be a draw — or at least an apples to oranges comparison.
When it comes to health, Puerto Rico is clearly ahead of the Bahamas. The life expectancy of women in Puerto Rico is 85, while in the Bahamas it is 75. Bahamian men can expect to live to age 68, while Puerto Rican men have a life expectancy of 75. The birth rate in the Bahamas is about twice that of Puerto Rico, but the overall death rates are similar.
Both have fewer than 2 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants. Diabetes is much higher in Puerto Rico, but tuberculosis is both more common and more deadly in the Bahamas. HIV is higher in the Bahamas than in Puerto Rico. Maternal deaths are three times higher in the Bahamas and infant mortality is double. Both face increasing problems with obesity, heart disease, and cancer, which are now the most common causes of death.