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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- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]2018 All rights reserved.