The Stream

Why is the population of Eastern and Central Europe in freefall?

Countries from the Baltic to the Balkans are facing a demographic crisis as birth rates decline and people move westwards.

The world’s population is increasing, with the United Nations projecting that it may grow from 7.7 billion people in 2019 to 9.7 billion in 2050. Half of the projected rise is expected to be driven by population growth in a handful of countries including India, Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States. But growth is not universal. Governments across Eastern and Central Europe are rattled that their respective populations are falling precipitously.

The UN’s population forecasts make for grim reading for countries in the Baltic regions and the Balkans. The populations of Lithuania, Bulgaria and Latvia are expected to shrink by more than 20 percent between 2019 and 2050, while Ukraine, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Moldova are among those who could also see sharp falls. 

Demographers say a host of trends lie behind the regional decrease. Birth rates in states across Eastern Europe are well below replacement levels and mortality figures in former Warsaw Pact countries lag behind their neighbours in Western Europe. Meanwhile, the mass emigration of thousands of Eastern Europeans – many of them young people looking for better opportunities westwards – has contributed to a brain drain that has made Eastern Europe a more challenging place to live. Yet many countries facing steep declines in population are reticent about encouraging increased immigration to counter depopulation’s ill-effects.

We’ll look at what depopulation means for people across Eastern Europe and what is needed to tackle it. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Tim Judah @timjudah1
Balkans correspondent, The Economist

Hristo Boyadzhiev @tuk_tam
Founder, Tuk-Tam

Alida Vračić 
Europe’s Futures Fellow,The Institute for Human Sciences

Read more:
Eastern Europe is headed toward a demographic crisis – Washington Post
This is how Estonia is growing its population – World Economic Forum

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.