The world population recently hit the eighth billion mark, but its growth rate has slowed noticeably in the past decades.
Going by recent data gathered by the World Bank, dramatically low fertility rates and high levels of migration are almost always the two main causes, with fertility rates dropping from 5.3 births per woman in 1963 to 2.3 births in 2020.
1. Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands are a sprawling chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and the Philippines in the Oceania. It is the country with the most dramatic population decline in the last decade. With an average growth rate below -2.18 per cent per year, the country has lost around 20 per cent of its population.
The major reasons for this are emigration to countries such as the US, to which islanders can travel visa-free. Economic pressure due to its remote location is likely a key reason people are leaving the country en masse. Almost half of the households in the country say they worry about having enough food. Every island and atoll in the country saw a population drop in the 10-year period of between 2011-2021. It has a population of just 42,050.
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia is yet another Balkan county with a population that is in rapid decline. It lost over 3.2 million people in the 10 years of 2011 to 2021, giving it an average growth rate of -1.39 per cent for that time period. The cause of this drop is both a negative natural growth rate and mass emigration. Although cities such as Sarajevo, its capital, may be full of tourists and the Bosnian diaspora during the summer months, they quickly empty out during the off-season. Bosnians are choosing to live outside of the country in search of better work opportunities, and it’s the main cause of the country’s major population drop. By 2021, it had a population of 3.27 million.
3. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and an unincorporated territory of the USA, and its story of population decline is one shared by other US territories. In many countries around the world, populations are moving away from rural areas in search of higher-paying jobs. A similar phenomenon is happening in Puerto Rico. Residents of Puerto Rico are free to live and work on the US mainland, and that’s just what many are doing. Its natural population growth is another factor causing numbers to drop. The World Bank recorded a birth rate of just 0.9 per woman in 2020, and an average population growth of just -1.19 per cent in the last decade.
Fluctuations in Latvia’s population are nothing new — World War II and its time as a Soviet nation both had dramatic impacts on the number of people in the country. But the current population decline has many people worried about Latvia’s future. Consistent with the trend of worldwide population decline, birth rates in Latvia aren’t keeping up with death rates. This problem is compounded by the fact that Latvians have been emigrating from the country in big numbers, as economic opportunities in other EU countries are often more attempting than domestic options. In the last decade, it averaged a population growth of -0.97 per cent. Its population now stands at 1.9 million.
Lithuania has made the list of countries with declining populations for many years after it successfully gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, but the trend may be changing. Thanks to the increasing attractiveness of economic opportunities in the country, net migration was positive in 2021 for the first time in three decades. Although emigration has decreased and has, at least temporarily, slowed the decline of Lithuania’s population, birth rates are nowhere near where they would need to be to keep up with the country’s death rate. Between 2011 and 2021, it recorded an average population growth rate of -0.91 per cent, with its population standing at 2.8 million.
To understand the current social, political, and economic situation of Croatia, it’s necessary to consider the country’s history as a Yugoslav nation and its subsequent years of civil war from 1991-1995. The country’s economy was devastated during this time period and hasn’t quite recovered. Even after the country’s accession to the EU, the economy has continued to lag behind, and this has incentivised many Croatians to seek work and more prosperous lives abroad. Croatians also aren’t having as many children as is necessary to keep up with death rates in the country, and an aging population exacerbates the problem. In total, Croatia has a population of 3.9 million and an average population growth of -0.88 per cent.
Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union. Since it gained independence in 1991, its population has dropped by nearly 1.5 million people, with the main cause of this drop being emigration. Like many countries in the area, more people have been dying each year than are being born, but negative net migration numbers are far more impactful. A shortage of labour and skilled professionals is causing some to label the situation an existential crisis for Moldova, which has a population of 2.61 million and an average population growth of -0.82 per cent.
Bulgaria has the lowest per-capita income of any country in the EU, and this likely plays a major role in the decline its population has seen over the past decade. As a member of the EU, Bulgarian citizens have the right to seek work and live in other member states, and the economic opportunities abroad are generally much more attractive than those at home. Low birth rates are also contributing to the negative population growth rate in Bulgaria and across the region, but they certainly don’t tell the whole story. Birth rates aren’t significantly lower in Bulgaria than in its neighbouring countries, but high emigration levels make it a leader in population decline. In the last decade, its average population growth was -0.66 per cent.
Serbia’s population decline began many decades ago, though official figures may have masked the decline by counting Serbians that were living outside of the country. The country’s census now only includes residents living in the country, and it’s clear that the numbers are growing smaller each year. High emigration numbers and low birth rates are the primary culprits of the dwindling population. If the current trend continues, Serbia’s population will be 25 per cent lower in 2050 than it was in 1990. Ghost towns across the country are just one of the symptoms of Serbia’s extreme population decline. In the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, average population growth in the landlocked country in Southeastern and Central Europe stood at -0.59 per cent.
Playing out a scene that has become common across Eastern Europe, more people are emigrating from Romania than are arriving to settle in the country. This negative migration flow has contributed to the declining population and could put a strain on its economy. Low birth rates and an aging population are other contributors to the population decline seen from 2011 to 2021. The country experienced the sharpest population decline in the European Union (EU) in 2020. This is a trend that speculators warn could continue in Romania and nearby countries over the coming decades. Between 2011 and 2021, Romania had an average population growth of -0.52 per cent. By 2021, the southeastern European country had a population of 19.1 million.
Compiled by: Mwangi Alberto