Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A brief note on Lithuania's depopulation

Thanks have to go to Edward Hugh, via his Facebook presence, for sharing the news that the Lithuanian population has fallen catastrophically, to a much greater extent than earlier predictions had suggested. I'm honestly quite surprised by the scope of the decline.

The Lithuania prime minister bemoaned his shrinking population Monday, as the results of a census revealed it has fallen 10 percent in the past decade.

"Unfortunately, we must admit that Lithuania is not only an emigrating nation but also a nation that is dying out," Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said.

Lithuania's statistics agency said the population is now 3.05 million, down from over 3.4 million in 2001. Twenty years ago, when the country split from the Soviet Union, the country had 3.7 million people.

Results of the census - conducted from March to May - confirmed that rapid emigration and a falling birth rate continue to erode the country's demographics despite membership in the European Union and improvements to the quality of life over the past 10 years.

Large communities of Lithuanians have sprouted in places such as Ireland and England during this time.

"We have lost 700,000 (people) in 20 years - this is a lot for such a small nation," said Romas Lazutka, a sociology professor at Vilnius University.

"The main driving force behind emigration is outdated economic and social policies. Those who do not have a job or cannot make ends meet, even while working, leave this country," he said.

Agence France-Presse went into more detail, describing the economic consequences.

The slump is a concern for the country's centre-right government, which is at the helm of a tough austerity drive brought in after Lithuania plunged into one of the deepest recessions in the European Union in 2009.

The economy has gradually emerged from the doldrums after the sharp crisis.

"It is very important that those people who left Lithuania in large numbers keep ties with Lithuania and see opportunities to come back," Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius told reporters on Monday. Analysts warn that the population decline may impede the economic recovery.

"The population decrease has been very rapid due to negative demographic trends, but emigration is probably even more important," Rimantas Rudzkis, chief analyst at the bank DnB Nord in Lithuania, told AFP.

"Such a decline will have negative consequences. Lithuania will be lacking workforce and that may deter investment," he added. The emigration trend started after EU entry in 2004.

[. . .]

Few have returned, despite the host countries' own economic slumps. Statistics showed that 83,500 people left Lithuania in 2010, mostly to Britain and Ireland.

Officials have said that may include people who left earlier but made the move official to avoid the Lithuanian government's new drive to collect taxes from undeclared emigrants.

Economic convergence between poor and rich countries--within the European Union, without--isn't inevitable. The sort of mass emigration that not only sharply reduces the size of the workforce but worsens problems of population aging can certainly harm a country's prospects.


Anonymous said...

EU membership seems to be catastrophic for the Baltic states. I'd be interested to see what the demographic situation has been in other newly independent, post soviet countries which didn't join the EU. What's the situation in Montenegro, Macedonia, Ukraine etc?

Has the fact that the movement of people within the EU been more detremental than beneficial?


Randy McDonald said...

Catastrophic? Without European Union membership--something that was supported across the board by nearly all political factions in the Baltic States, part of the post-Soviet normalization of these countries--things could easily be worse. The same incentives for mass emigration would exist, only in this situation the migrants would have much less protection and their home countries would have significantly fewer financial resources supporting domestic consumption.

Anonymous said...

Randy - I don't mean this as an attack on the EU but has the free movement of people made it so easy to move that they have. Had moving been a little less free would they have stayed home?


jemand said...


Looks like Belarus' population only fell 6% in 16 years and as for the Ukraine, http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_pop_totl&idim=country:BLR&dl=en&hl=en&q=belarus+population

They dropped 12 percent since 1993.

According to the world bank numbers on Lithuanian population shows it ALSO dropped about 11 percent since the peak in the early nineties.

So maybe membership or lack of it in the EU really doesn't make much of a difference.

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Randy McDonald said...

cymro: I'd be inclined to say that the numbers would be less, yes. I'm also inclined to say that large numbers would still try to leave without EU membership--maybe even more without the stabilizing effect of said. Lithuania would likely still have its economic bubble, only be without as ready aid. This might encourage more Lithuanians to leave.

The Lithuanians who did leave would find themselves in a precarious situation, open to exploitation without EU-guaranteed access to labour markets. This would worsen the situation for Lithuanians, not only Lithuanians working abroad but Lithuanians at home--fewer remittances won't aid things.

Making it more difficult for Lithuanians to leave, in order words, wouldn't improve things. It would just increase the number of unemployed at home, while diminishing the funds available to Lithuanian households specifically and Lithuania generally, and making the situation of Lithuanians working abroad still more difficult. It isn't about numbers: it's also about how numbers are used.

Jemand: I do my best!

Unknown said...

In Lithuania is so much workforce, people want to work, but not enough work for all. So I think that investment in Lithuania is good choice.

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