These countries have the fastest-shrinking populations in the world

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September 25, 2019
SAIF AL-HILAOUI // Getty Images

These countries have the fastest-shrinking populations in the world

The United Kingdom is poised to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 without an exit deal. The first attempted exit of a nation from the eurocentric political and financial supranational organization, the separation—popularly known as “Brexit”—would be tricky under agreeable circumstances, as it would require both the U.K. and the eurozone to adopt new trade agreements, new currency controls, and new customs standards.

However, the selection of Boris Johnson, a Brexit hardliner, as prime minister, significantly complicates things. Determined to get the British Parliament to agree to his terms for the “divorce,” Johnson moved to adjourn the Parliament, shortening the time it will have to consider a proposal before “crashing out” with no international trade or customs treaties (as the EU was authorized to negotiate internationally for the U.K. during its membership). The county's Supreme Court ruled this action illegal on Sept. 24, and members of Parliament have since returned to the House of Commons.

This situation, which could possibly see the U.K. virtually isolated and incapable of receiving vital supplies, was partially a response to an increasing migrant crisis in the EU. Some "leave" voters grew concerned about the fact that the U.K. is accepting not only external refugees from countries like Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine, but also internal migrants from the former USSR and the former Soviet Bloc countries.

A person, given the opportunity, usually will choose what is safe and most conducive to their and their family’s security. Concerns such as war, a weak economy, an oppressive government, or other factors that lend an air of uncertainty, fuels emigration or migration from an area. Should this migration be of childbearing-age residents, the loss could also lead to a situation where the death rate exceeds the birth rate.

To better understand this, Stacker consulted data from the World Bank to determine the 20 countries with the fastest-shrinking populations. The 30 independent nations with the lowest rates of annual percent population growth in 2018 are ranked here. These countries’ average population growth rates over the past 10 and 50 years are also included.

While the nations are ranked by their 2018 rate of population decline, the data is accurate as of 2019. The average growth rate for the nations was 1.11% in 2018, with a 10-year growth rate of 1.19% and a 50-year growth rate of 1.56%.

Understanding why people move can help illustrate the long-term consequences of war or politics. The true effects of these behaviors may not be immediate—but their ramifications are usually deep.

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Aleksei Savin // Shutterstock

#20. Russia

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.01% (101.2% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): 0.12% (90.1% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.24% (84.7% below world rate)

The collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) forced severe social and economic change on the now-free component states. While some, like Estonia, took to the new independence and ran with it, others struggled. Russia, the largest of the component states, for example, is dealing with an economy strangled by international sanctions. Increases in alcohol-related deaths, decreases in the birth rate, a high abortion rate, and virtually no immigration have all contributed to a population drop.

[Pictured: Woman walking in the city of Magnitogorsk, Russia.]

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DANIEL MIHAILESCU // Getty Images

#19. Moldova

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.09% (108.4% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.08% (106.6% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.39% (74.9% below world rate)

For a while, the former USSR state of Moldova was the world’s fastest-shrinking nation. As of 2016, more than 15% of all Moldovans—one-third of the employable population—lived outside of Moldova. Extreme poverty and unemployment, plus increased female emigration, has made the situation in Europe’s poorest country untenable.

[Pictured: Local family traveling by motorcycle around the commune of Mingir in Moldova.]

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Fanfo // Shutterstock

#18. Belarus

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.14% (112.2% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.07% (105.5% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.16% (90% below world rate)

Another former USSR state, Belarus’ population has been on a roller-coaster ride since World War II. One of the hardest hit areas during the war, the population did not start its recovery until 1951. The population increased steadily until the Soviet breakup in 1999, when the death rate started to exceed the birth rate. Urbanization of the previously largely rural country, along with unpopular policies from its authoritarian government, has effectively halted immigration and led to population drops in all areas but Minsk and Narovlya.

[Pictured: Lyntupy village, Myadel district, Belarus.]

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lazyllama // Shutterstock

#17. Italy

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.17% (115.7% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): 0.35% (70.3% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.27% (82.7% below world rate)

The first non-Soviet nation on this list, Italy is slowly being crushed under the weight of its national debt. A European Union nation, Italian citizens can work and live wherever they like in the EU, meaning that they can escape the growing unemployment and stagnant economy. With birth rates dropping and the working population decreasing, many feel that Italy will not be able to self-correct without external help and may be facing a complete demographic shift.

[Pictured: Laundry-lined street in the center of Naples, Italy.]

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Cherkasov // Shutterstock

#16. Portugal

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.18% (116.2% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.23% (119.6% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.30% (80.9% below world rate)

Unlike Italy, population trends in Portugal have been more in flux. In 2017, for example, Portugal reported the first year of population growth since 2010. Like Italy, the nation was drowning in debt, with much of its working-age population looking for better options elsewhere. The nation has engaged in a government program that encourages younger migrants to come and work in the country, with most of the migrants coming from Ukraine, Cape Verde, and Brazil. This was temporary, as population decreases were reported in 2018 and 2019.

[Pictured: Empty street in the Portuguese city of Obidos.]

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Daniel Szucs // Shutterstock

#15. Hungary

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.20% (117.7% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.27% (122.7% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.09% (105.5% below world rate)

Hungary has been struggling financially. One of the largest economies in central Europe, Hungary has yet to fully recover from the 2008 global financial crisis. While economic growth picked up in 2015 through several plans, such as the increased absorption of EU funds and the Hungarian central bank’s backing of subsidized loans for small- and medium-sized businesses, the economy remains fragile. This has driven much of the working-class population of childbearing age to seek work elsewhere.

[Pictured: Abandoned residential buildings in Hungary.]

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Logan Bush // Shutterstock

#14. Japan

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.20% (118.3% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.10% (108% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.46% (70.5% below world rate)

The first non-European nation on this list, the inclusion of Japan may seem weird, as the nation has a healthy economy. Despite this, the rate of population decline in the nation has grown to the highest level since 1899, when such statistics started being kept. The declining workforce has led Japan to push forward with automation. It is believed that the large number of young adults not in relationships, fueled by a lack of steady jobs, is fueling the childlessness problem.

[Pictured: Nagoya, Japan]

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mrmojorisin // Shutterstock

#13. Albania

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.25% (122.3% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.33% (127.9% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.76% (51.3% below world rate)

Albania is another European nation facing a shrinking population because of emigration. With half of the population at retirement age, and with most residents of childbearing age moving away to seek better-paying jobs, Albania finds itself in a difficult position. The country is one of the poorest nations in Europe, largely caused by a difficult transition to a free-market economy after being a communist economy under Soviet influence.

[Pictured: Abandoned railway train in the countryside of Albania.]

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AFP Contributor // Getty Images

#12. Greece

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.25% (122.7% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.27% (122.7% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.43% (72.6% below world rate)

One of the leading international stories for the past decade has been the Greek debt crisis. Heavy borrowing and poor accounting created the backdrop for a situation that exploded during the 2008 financial crisis. With the government facing internal debts several times beyond the eurozone’s permitted limits, the nation—whose chief industry, tourism, was damaged during the crisis—was forced into austerity. Like other EU nations with weak economies, fertile working-class adults left Greece, leading to an older, smaller populace.

[Pictured: A man sits near artworks by Greek graffiti artist Cacao Rocks in central Athens.]

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ALEKSEY FILIPPOV // Getty Images

#11. Ukraine

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.47% (142.1% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.37% (131% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.05% (103.5% below world rate)

Ukraine is facing several challenges. First, the nation is in a proxy war with Russia. Following the forced removal of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Russian armed forces invaded and annexed Crimea and backed pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s Donbass region. Second, large emigration flows to Poland, the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina have left the nation unable to absorb the large death numbers from the fighting.

[Pictured: Remains of a school as it stood in 2018, after its roof was ripped off by three Grad missiles in 2017.]

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Matt Cardy // Getty Images

#10. Serbia

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.55% (149.9% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.50% (142.2% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.27% (117.6% below world rate)

Like many ranks, patterns emerge that help explain why someone or something has been included. This list is no different. Typically, a person will choose to leave an area if they feel it is no longer tenable to stay. For most of the USSR’s former states and the satellite nations that were behind the “Iron Curtain,” the collapse of the communist system and the switch to a free-market economy introduced extreme poverty and wealth stratification, which many nations struggled to overcome. Serbia, like most of the nations that fit this pattern, has seen its population decimated by emigration, which only serves to prolong the economic turmoil.

[Pictured: Serbian migrants held at the Horgas border crossing between Serbia and Hungary.]

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Mircea Moira // Shutterstock

#9. Romania

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.58% (152.4% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.64% (154% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 0.01% (99.7% below world rate)

Another “Iron Curtain” nation, Romania is facing natural decline—or, the number of deaths exceeding the number of births—because of international emigration. As most of the Romanians who left the country are highly educated, this may lead to a “brain drain” that may negatively impact the nation’s productivity.

[Pictured: An elderly couple on an empty street in a village in rural Romania.]

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Harry studio // Shutterstock

#8. Bulgaria

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.73% (166.2% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.64% (154.1% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.32% (120.6% below world rate)

The poorest EU nation, Bulgaria has not seen any semblance of economic relief since the USSR days. With many of its villages on the verge of extinction because of underpopulation, the nation is losing residents at a rate of 164 per day.

[Pictured: Dirt road in a semi-abandoned village in Bulgaria.]

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Peteris Zalitis // Shutterstock

#7. Latvia

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.81% (173.2% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -1.25% (205.1% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.34% (121.7% below world rate)

As of 2018, Latvia has lost one-fifth of its population to emigration. While the capital of Riga has seen an increase in population over the years because of rural residents opting for the city, more Latvians choose to try their luck in a different country where they may earn higher wages.

[Pictured: Abandoned house in Latvia]

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JoaLacerda // Shutterstock

#6. Bosnia and Herzegovina

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.83% (174.6% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -1.16% (197.5% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.16% (110.3% below world rate)

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still recovering from the war that ended 18 years ago. The Yugoslav Wars—a series of ethnic fights following the breakup of Yugoslavia—left thousands dead and displaced, with mass graves still being discovered to this day. One estimate suggests that the wars eliminated one-third of the nation’s population. This was compounded by the flooding of 2014, which further displaced more than 500,000 Bosnians and left nearly a quarter of the population without clean water.

[Pictured: Vegetation taking over a building in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.]

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Milica011 // Shutterstock

#5. Croatia

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.86% (177.1% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -0.44% (137.1% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.10% (106.5% below world rate)

Another former Yugoslav nation, Croatia saw heavy emigration as the result of its Croatian War of Independence, which saw many killed or displaced. During the final years of the Yugoslav Wars, over 300,000 Serbs fled Croatia before the arrival of Croatian forces during Operation Storm, of which only about one-third returned.

[Pictured: Abandoned Croatian town Obrovac.]

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AFP Contributor // Getty Images

#4. Syria

- Population growth rate in 2018: -0.95% (185.9% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -1.52% (228.4% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 2.18% (39.6% above world rate)

Another war-ravaged nation, the Middle Eastern nation of Syria has seen large population drops because of the Syrian Civil War, which caused large swaths of the nation’s population to be displaced. The war—the second deadliest of the 21st century—is a fight between the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic government and its allies, including Russia and Iran, versus various factions that oppose them. Triggered by the Arab Spring movement of pushing back against authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, Iranian President Bashar al-Assad used violence to crush the protests, leading to an armed insurgency.

[Pictured: Abandoned building where people take refuge in the town of Tabqa]

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade // Flickr

#3. Nauru

- Population growth rate in 2018: -1.34% (221.3% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): 2.69% (126.4% above world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 1.45% (6.8% below world rate)

Nauru is a Micronesian nation located in the South Pacific and is the third-smallest nation in the world by area (after Vatican City and Monaco), as well as the third-smallest by population (after Vatican City and Tuvalu). Declared independent from Australia in 1968, Nauru was largely destroyed by the trusteeship of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which stripped the island for phosphate. State ownership of the island has made the Nauruans rich, and Australia was ordered by the International Court of Justice to pay to rehabilitate the island. Nauru is highly unhealthy, with obesity at four times the global average, alcohol and tobacco use rampant, and life expectancy at one of the lowest levels for a westernized nation.

[Pictured: The site of secondary mining of phosphate rock in Nauru.]

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BOOCYS // Shutterstock

#2. Lithuania

- Population growth rate in 2018: -1.38% (224.8% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): -1.33% (212.2% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): -0.15% (109.4% below world rate)

Of all of the former USSR and Soviet Bloc nations, none has it as bad as Lithuania. Going back to the emerging pattern, the difference between former Soviet nations that managed to succeed in a non-USSR world and those that haven’t typically fall to leadership. Nations that embraced democracy early on and held open elections were more likely to roll with the punches, while those that fell to authoritarian governments or maintained an element of communism found themselves too rigid to quickly respond to rapid economic changes.

Lithuania is an exception to this. The first Soviet state to declare independence, Lithuania is a high-income advanced economy with high levels of civil liberties, peacefulness, internet and press freedoms, and democratic assurances. The nation also has a high cost of living, an average wage inadequate to meet this cost of living, and development limited to the cities. While during the Soviet era, Lithuania was prosperous and wealthy, but its rush to “run before it can walk” has created economic inequalities that are intolerable. As an EU nation, its citizens can simply leave, which they have.

[Pictured: Street running through the abandoned portion of the capital city, Vilnius.]

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LUIS ROBAYO // Getty Images

#1. Venezuela

- Population growth rate in 2018: -1.79% (261.1% below world rate)
- Average 10-year population growth (2008-2017): 0.76% (36.2% below world rate)
- Average 50-year population growth (1968-2017): 2.09% (33.6% above world rate)

Venezuela has found itself on the wrong end of a sanctions fight with the United States. The possessor of the world’s largest reserve of crude oil, Venezuela constructed a socialist government that centered around its export of petroleum and using the profits to rehabilitate the damage done during the Latin American debt crisis.

The death of reformer President Hugo Chavez led to the election of Nicolas Maduro—whose failure to implement Chavez’s policies led to hyperinflation, increases in poverty and unemployment, a collapse of the economy, and shortages in basic needs. A migration crisis followed. As a reaction to the Venezuelan government’s violent response to protests that originally started in response to the murder of a former Miss Venezuela and the attempted rape of a college student, the United States moved to sanction Venezuela’s oil.

[Pictured: Venezuelan migrants travel on a truck on a road between Armenia and Cali, Colombia.]

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