Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Three Baltic Countries Share Many Demographic Trends but Diverge on Others

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 17 – The three Baltic countries share one unfortunate characteristic with the five post-Soviet Central Asian ones: many outsiders stress how much alike the members of each grouping are all too often ignoring or downplaying the ways in which they are different and increasingly diverging.

            That shortcoming is shared by Russian analyst Artur Kondratenko in his analysis of demographic trends in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, but he provides enough data which shows that assuming the three are all on the exactly the same path is a mistake (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-12-17--za-30-let-bez-sssr-strany-baltii-poterjali-dva-milliona-naselenija-63640).

            Like most observers, he stresses the fact that since 1990, the three Baltic countries have lost more than two million residents, the result of emigration first by ethnic Russians to the east and then by the indigenous peoples to the West and of rapidly falling fertility rates as members of the three nations have fewer children because raising them is so expensive.

            Latvia has seen its population fall from 2.7 million to 1.9 million officially, Kondratenko says; but the actual decline is much larger because many people Riga counts as residents actually spend most or even all of their time abroad while remaining citizens and thus nominally residents of the republic.

            Only 286 Latvians emigrated last year, primarily because of pandemic restrictions; but nearly a third of all Latvians say that they would like to live and work abroad; and consequently, Latvian experts say that outmigration is likely to resume and even grow as covid restrictions are lifted in other countries.

            Over the last 30 years, Latvia lost approximately 30 percent of its population, but today, its continuing decline is primarily the result of excess deaths over births as the population has aged and Latvians have elected to have fewer children. Women now have their first child so late in life that they are unlikely to have more.

            Lithuania has also seen its population decline, from 3.7 million in 1990 to 2.8 million today, not just because of emigration but also because of the combination seen in Latvia of falling fertility rates and rising mortality rates. In Lithuania, urbanization plays the key role because the share of villagers in the population where birthrates are higher has declined sharply.

            Almost a third – 31.8 percent – of the Lithuanian population still lives in villages, but their numbers are declining rapidly and the villages are disappearing. Over the last decade alone, Kondratenko points out, rural residents have fallen by 118,200 and the number of rural settlements by 700.

            Lithuania has long been the most mono-ethnic of the three Baltic countries, but this year, because of an influx of Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians because of the situations in their countries and Putin’s war in Ukraine, the number of Russian speakers there has dramatically increased after falling since 1991.

            Estonia too has seen its population decline from 1.6 million in 1991 to 1.3 million now. But in contrast to Latvia and Lithuania, its demographic situation has eased. Over the last ten years, it has in fact grown an average of 2.9 percent a year, the result of a slight increase in the number of children per woman and of a large increase in life expectancy.

            Another demographic development in Estonia not found nearly as widespread in the other two Baltic countries is suburbanization. Rather than moving from villages to cities, many Estonians are now living in suburbs around the latter.

But for Tallinn, Kondratenko argues, the most worrisome development is that English is displacing not only Russian as a second language but Estonian as the language many younger people use most widely. This trend has been reduced by the influx of Russians and Ukrainians but it has not been reversed.

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