St. Kitts and Nevis had a population of about 45,000 in 1986; population density was 167 per square kilometer. Despite a crude birth rate of 26 per 1,000 inhabitants, annual population change has been about zero or slightly negative since 1970 because of continued emigration; nearly 20 percent of the population left the island each year in search of employment. Most went to Canada, Britain, or the United States and its Caribbean territories.
The long trend of labor emigration from St. Kitts and Nevis was tied to its economic and social development. Both men and women emigrated with the understanding that remittances to family members at home were expected of them for the entire time they were abroad. Some researchers have suggested that these remittances accounted for a greater percentage of disposable income than wages and salaries earned at home.
In the 1980s, more than 90 percent of Kittitians were black; most could trace their heritage to the African slave trade that was responsible for populating much of the Eastern Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There was, however, a small group of white inhabitants who dominated the economy and were prominently represented in the merchant, banking, and other business professions. The remainder of the population consisted of a small group of mulattoes. Notwithstanding this apparent racial division, socioeconomic stratification on St. Kitts and Nevis was defined mostly by occupational status rather than by color.
Religious affiliation in the late 1980s was directly linked to the islands' British colonial heritage. Most citizens were at least nominal members of the Anglican Church, although exact figures were not available. The remainder of the population belonged to other Protestant denominations, including the Church of God, Methodist, and Baptist churches.