Sunday, 6 April 2008

Lithuania's Demographic Problem

Here's an article I found on Delfi: It appeared on 1 April, hence the mention of an April Fool's Day joke. The translation is mine.

According to Fertility Level, Lithuania is Fifth in World. From the End.

This is not an April Fool's Day joke; according to its fertility level [or birth rate], Lithuania really stands at 218 out of 222 countries... The demographic situation in Lithuania is truly not enviable. Lithuania's demographic problem--the decrease and aging of its population--can be called the country's number one long-term problem and strategic challenge.

The survival of the Lithuanian ethnic group, including its culture and language, as well as Lithuania's economic potential and well-being, are especially dependant on demography.

The demographic problem is also quite dangerous because it is somewhat unnoticed, since in the middle term everything looks fine: the ecomony is growing, the number of workers is increasing, and real estate prices are rising. In fact, the Lithuanian economy is experiencing a demographic golden age. The largest new generation of Lithuanians, those born in 1985–90 (only the generation born in 1955–65 was larger), is now entering the labor market, and even though the population is rapidly decreasing, the number of workers is increasing.

Problems understanding the demographic situation also arise due to the difficulty separating two completely different processes: low fertility and emigration. Many think that if massive emigration were halted, the Lithuanian demographic problem would be solved. That opinion is incorrect since the country's biggest demographic problem is not the large rate of emigration but rather the low rate of fertility.

It is true that if fewer Lithuanians emigrated, the demographic situation in the country would be better, but the fertility rate--1.3 children per woman (according to which Lithuania is third from last in Europe and in the last ten in the world)--actually only considers women living in Lithuania (those that have not emigrated). In other words, even if there was no emigration, with such a rate of fertility the number of inhabitants would quite likely be three times as low by the end of this century. This can be illustrated by a simple example: given such a birth rate, 100 people (50 women) will have an average of 65 children, 42 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren, and so on. (To keep the population from dropping, 100 people need to have 100 grandchildren and 100 great grandchildren.)

According to a forecast prepared by the United Nations, about 2.65 million people will live in Lithuania in 2050, more or less the same number as in 1950 ( [I think the current population is around 3.4 million.] This forecast is optimistic, however, in that it assumes that fertility will constantly increase from the current rate of 1.3 to 1.7 children per woman. It is also important to realize that in 2050 the average Lithuanian will be 50 years old (the average Lithuanian is now 39). For that reason, the biggest drop in the population will actually begin in 2050. Even though the number of children and young people is dropping, until that time the number of people reaching retirement age will grow, making it at least appear someone is "still living" in Lithuania.

To point out the fertility problem, it is important to look at Lithuania's demographic situation, temporarily forgetting emigration. For such a comparison, it is suitable to look at Russia since the birth rate there is quite similar to Lithuania's, but that country does not have a problem with emigration [which was news to me]. Russia can be looked at as an example of what is waiting for Lithuania, even if the emigration problem here fades away.

Those who follow the official Russian press [I assume the author means the state-controlled press] know that the demographic problem there is discussed quite frequently and seriously. They truly understand the seriousness of the problem, and it seems to truly be the number one problem for them. Russian security agencies know quite well what is being counted (and the CIA also understands very well)--that Russia is little by little beginning to be taken off the list of possible competitors in the distant future.

Russia does not have an emigration problem. Even now there is more immigration than emigration. Since 1990, 5 million more people have immigrated than emigrated; many people have returned from Latvia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc. The population of Russia, however, instead of going up 5 million, has gone down 8 million. What happened to those 13 million people? The mathematical answer is quite simple. That is how much a population will drop over 18 years when each year 1.4 million are born and 2.3 million people die.

Here is the UN forecast for the population of Russia until 2050:

According to the UN, by 2050 the population of Belarus (which is not having any emigration problems) will drop from 10 to 7 million, the population of Ukraine will drop from 50 to 30 million, and that of Poland will drop from 38 to 30 million. The population of Europe will drop almost only because of the decreases in Eastern Europe.

It is especially interesting to compare Lithuania with Ireland. In 1995 both countries had roughly the same number of inhabitants--around 3.6 million. But by 2050, Ireland will have a population of 6.2 million, while the population of Lithuania will drop to 2.6 million. The main reason for this is although not long ago 50,000 children were born in each country every year this figure in Lithuania will drop from its current 30,000 to about 25,000, and in Ireland this figure is expected to stay at its current level of 60,000. While the average Lithuanian woman will have 1.4 children, the average Irish woman will have 1.9. At least according to the UN forecast, the positive rate of migration that Ireland is now experiencing will only have a minimal influence on the population there, and the main factor will be the rise in the rate of birth.

Therefore, what are Lithuanians to do if they have some sort of ambition about being a majority at least in their own country? Without a doubt, it is first of all necessary to strengthen the belief that having three or four children is normal and that one or two children is a small family. Because with the spread of the German phenomenon, in which every third woman does not have any children, the average stays at 1.3 (even if the remaining women have two children each; if they have three, the average would stand at two).

In the second position, it is necessary to create a convenient and modern free pre-school system, one which would if required care for children from very early in the morning to late in the evening, on weekends, and so on. Without a doubt, it is also necessary to transform the secondary school system to allow it to provide children the possibility to take part in after school and leisure time functions [almost none of which are available to students now--after school sports programs: ha, none exist]. It is also important that a positive view of families with children be created in society and among employers.

The most important thing, however, is to change the psychological climate in Lithuania. It is not surprising that Lithuania has the highest rate of suicide in the world, the highest rates of death in the "war on the roads" [see my 3 March post], and until 2006 (when Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union), the highest rate of emigration [I assume in the EU]. Lithuania, according to the CIA, is 218 [see]
out of 222 countries by rate of fertility. (Again, this is according to woman who reside [are expected to reside] in Lithuania and is not influenced by emigration.)

Perhaps it is only possible to be "proud" that four years ago Lithuania was in a lower position--222nd place (as if the two...two...two was noted)--but at that time there were more countries on the CIA list... This is not an April Fool's joke.

No comments: