Croatia Might See its Population Size Shrink to 3.5 million by Decade's End

By 14 January 2022
Croatia Might See its Population Size Shrink to 3.5 million by Decade's End

ZAGREB, 14 Jan 2022 - Demographers Ivo Turk and Ivan Čipin warned on Friday that Croatia's population might decline to 3.5 million by the end of the decade, after the latest census revealed the largest decrease in the population size compared with other census periods.

Croatia has a population of 3.89 million, which is 9.25 per cent fewer than in 2011, according to the initial results of the 2021 census released by the National Bureau of Statistics (DZS) on Friday.

Turk noted that in the last 10 years Croatia had lost population faster than in any previous census period.

Croatia's population had been on the decline all along, with the 2011 census showing a drop of 3.4 per cent compared with 2001 and the 2001 census recording a decline of 7.25 per cent compared with 1991.

Turk said that these negative indicators were not the worst thing, adding that "it is yet to be seen what the age and gender structure of the population is."

The DZS published only the data on the population size by town and county, while more detailed statistics, including those on the age structure, will be released at a later date.

Turk said that the data on the age structure are expected to show an even greater number of elderly people (those aged 60 and above) because it is young people who are assumed to have emigrated from the country.

"Further population ageing will have negative repercussions for the birth rate," he stressed.

Čipin said that these results were expected and that the trend in the population decline might accelerate.

"If the present trend continues, the number of inhabitants might fall below 3.5 million much sooner than projected by Eurostat and the UN, already before the end of this decade," he said.

Čipin said that the negative birth rate (a larger number of deaths than births) would continue in the next decade and that it was not realistic to expect a reversal of this trend.

Low fertility and emigration as symptoms of social problems

Čipin said the record-high negative difference between births and deaths in the last two years was solely due to the considerable increase in deaths during the pandemic, "while the number of births stayed more or less the same in the last five years, at 36,000 on average."

There is only one demographic process we can rely on if we wish to slow down or turn depopulation around - migration, he added.

"We should not expect any significant increase in births, not even if we reach 40,000 births per year. We can't significantly reduce the number of deaths below 50,000. But the government can impact migration and the politicians in power should decide how to do it."

Before that, it is necessary to make serious demographic, economic and other analyses, Čipin said, adding that emigration should not be treated solely as a "problem that should be solved" but as a symptom of social problems. "Only when we start solving them can we expect even partial demographic revitalisation."

Čipin said Croatia reached a population peak in 1990 and 1991 at 4.78 million, adding that it was very difficult to expect to reach those numbers ever again, at least this century.

Turk, whose work focuses on the population of Croatia's peripheral parts, said one of the biggest problems was the dying out of those as well as of the rural parts of the country.

Lika-Senj County has a population density of less than ten per square kilometre, he noted.

Vukovar-Srijem County is dying out, too, yet Croatia should have a strong demographic policy there, strategically set and long term, Turk said.

Peripheral regions require central functions in order for people to move there, he said, adding that no one would come to live in Lika because it was beautiful if they had no job opportunities there.

Demographic policy should be above party and government

Croatia needs a demographic policy which is above party and government, one with continuity, irrespective of changes of government, Turk said. "A long-term strategic plan needs to be made. It shouldn't be partisan or political. Experts should be influential."

At present, there is no quick fix for a demographic revival because nothing in demography can be fixed overnight, he said, adding that the first results would be visible only in 20 or 30 years.

A solution lies in the return of young expats, Turk said.