Fifteen countries in Central and Eastern Europe are expected to see their populations contract by more than 30% by the end of the century, new UN data shows. Moldova, which has already seen an exodus of its citizens to find work abroad, will lead the decline with its population forecast to drop by 51.8% by 2100.
Across Europe, the fertility rate is well below the rate needed for natural population increase. In CEE this is compounded by mass economic migration, with around 20mn people leaving the region between 1991 and 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Over the next 13 years, the sharpest population declines in CEE are expected in Latvia (-10.4%), Bulgaria (-9.2%) and Croatia (-7.0%), with Ukraine and Romania also expected to see declines of more than 6%.
By 2050, the most extreme falls in population will again be in Bulgaria (-23.4%) and Latvia (-22.2%), followed by Moldova (-18.7%). They are among nine countries from the region set to see a population decline of over 15% by the middle of the century, a list that also includes Croatia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine – plus just one territory from outside the region, the United States Virgin Islands.
Most of these countries are expected to see a further decline in their populations by the end of the century, while the global population continues to grow – albeit at a slower pace than previously – to top 11.1bn by 2100. Aside from Moldova, four other East European countries face a population decline of over 40% by 2100: Bulgaria, Poland, Albania and Latvia.
During this period, Europe is the only continent that is forecast to see a population decline, with the number of inhabitants tailing off steadily from the current 742mn to 653mn. “Europe has the lowest fertility level, estimated at 1.6 births per woman in the most recent period… When fertility falls below the threshold of 2.1 births per woman, the number of babies that arrive from year to year is insufficient to replace the parents’ generation, creating a situation known as “below‐replacement” fertility,” commented John Wilmoth, director of the UN’s population division in his presentation of UN’s 2017 revision of its World Population Prospects report.
The UN expects the fertility rate in Europe as a whole to increase to nearly 1.8 in 2045-2050, although it points out that such an increase “will not prevent a likely contraction in the size of the total population”.
Alongside the issue of low fertility, is economic migration from CEE, Globally, Bosnia & Herzegovina topped a list of emigre nations compiled by the Pew Research Center, followed by Albania and Macedonia, which were among nine countries worldwide to have lost more than 20% of their populations to migration. EU member states in the region, in particular Romania, have also seen a wave of emigration by their citizens eager to embrace opportunities in the richer countries of Western Europe.
The IMF considers the consequences of this mass migration are largely negative, given the profile of many emigrants from the region. It points out that emigration has been dominated by educated and young workers, whose exodus has sharply accentuated the already adverse demographic trends in the region, lowered productivity and slowed economic growth.
While emigration has led to positive outcomes for migrants and for the EU as a whole, and remittances sent home by emigrants have had some positive effects on the sending countries’ economies – such as boosting consumption and investment – these have not outweighed the negative impacts of exodus on the CEE region, the IMF says.
Efforts by East European governments to woo back members of their diasporas, in the hope they will return with new skills and experience or at least invest in their home countries, have had only modest success.
The population decline in Eastern Europe is in stark contrast to the burgeoning population elsewhere in the world, the UN data showed. The global population was approaching 7.6bn as of mid-2017, indicating around 1bn inhabitants have been added in the last 12 years alone. It took until 1804 for the world’s population to reach 1bn, and another 123 years to pass the 2bn mark.
In addition, expected population decline is not universal across the former eastern bloc countries. Other states within the wider Eastern Europe and Eurasia region will see their populations continue to grow for the coming decades, only peaking in the latter part of the 21st century. In Azerbaijan and Iran, for example, population growth will only start to decline after 2050; their populations will fall by 2.7% and 10.7% respectively compared to the current level by 2100. This is broadly in line with the trend across Asia, where the UN data shows population growth peaking between 2050 and 2060.
Only Turkey and the five Central Asian republics will experience a rise in their populations by 2100. The most rapid growth is expected in the region’s poorest country, Tajikistan, where numbers are set to more than double from 8.9mn today to 18.9mn by the end of the century.
Globally long-term population growth will be concentrated in a relatively small number of countries, with half of the world’s population growth taking place in just nine countries between 2017 and 2050. Five of these countries are in Africa, which will be the main contributor to long-term population growth. “Much of the overall increase in population between now and 2050 is projected to occur either in high-fertility countries, mostly in Africa, or in countries with large populations,” the report says.