Mortality Rates in Croatia Worryingly High

By 20 March 2017

In January, more Croats died than in any other month since Croatia became independent.

According to preliminary data of the Central Bureau of Statistics, 6,441 people died in January in Croatia – which is more than in any month since 1990, as much as 42 percent more than in last January, and 35 percent more than the average number of deaths in the month of January over the past ten year, reports Jutarnji List on March 20, 2017.

Such extremely high mortality rates are primarily attributed to bitter cold this winter and a strong flu epidemic, which have a key impact on the mortality rates of the elderly population. “Seasonal influences, particularly influenza and cold, which particularly affect people with diseases of the respiratory and circulatory system, have a big effect on mortality, particularly for people over 70. If the preliminary data are accurate, it is likely that there will be a comprehensive analysis of the specific factors which produced such a high increase in the number of deaths”, said Ivan Čipin from the Department of Demography at the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb.

Number of deaths is always higher during winter months, especially from December to February, and in the last thirty years it has ranged from 4,500 to 5,000 people. From 2006 to 2016, the number of deaths in January crossed the 5,000 threshold three times. However, in January 2017 the number of deaths increased to nearly 6,500. From 1988 to today – which is the period for which we have available monthly data – the number of deaths has crossed 6,000 just once before, in January 1989, when there were 6,089 deaths. In January this year, the number of deaths increased by almost 6 percent compared to that year, while at the same time the total number of inhabitants in 1989 was higher by about half a million people than today.

On an annual basis, a surprisingly high mortality rate was recorded in 2015, when 54,205 people died, about 4,000 more than the year before. Mortality stabilized in 2016, when the number of deaths again returned to the 2014 levels, but 2017 could again be worse. “In 2015, we recorded the largest number of deaths since the war in 1991. It was the second largest number of deaths in the last 70 years, since the records are being kept”, said Čipin. Analysis for 2015 showed that in the first three months of the year there was a significant increase in the number of deaths, possibly due to increased incidence of influenza. Similarly, in July there was another increase in mortality due to a heat wave.

That year brought us one of the biggest negative differences between the number of births and number of deaths: in 2015, the number of deaths was almost 17,000 higher than the number of births. However, in January 2017, in just one month, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 3,209, which is twice higher than the average number for the ten-year period from 2006 to 2016. In other words, in January Croatia lost (not taking into account people who moved abroad) the total population of the town of Malinska.

The high number of deaths also affects the life expectancy which, for the first time since the war years, in 2015 declined by a few months compared to 2014. In 2014, life expectancy was 77.6 years for men, and 80.5 years for women. In 2015, life expectancy shortened by four months for men and one month for women. “The first data for January show that the downward trend in life expectancy could continue in 2017, because there was a strong increase in the number of deaths in January”, said Čipin, adding that it was possible that we are entering a period when seasonal epidemics and extreme weather conditions, such as cold and heat waves, could have a stronger effect.

For some time, Croatian population has been one of the oldest in the world. In 2016, the number of people older than 60 was almost two times higher than the number of children under 15: according to estimates, there are 606,400 children and 1.11 million people older than 60 years living in Croatia. The difference in numbers between these two age groups is increasing from year to year.

Consequently, the average age of the population is rapidly growing: in 1991, the average Croatian citizen was 37 years old. In 2015 – the latest year for which data have been published – the average Croatian citizen was 42.6 years old.