A candidate to the Lithuanian parliament, Arvydas Juozaitis, claimed Lithuania “has the greatest depopulation rate in the world”.
Juozaitis’ statement was almost correct. In fact, Lithuania is the second fastest-shrinking country in the world after Lebanon, according to the UN data.
Over the next five years, Lithuania’s population will decrease at an annual rate of one percent, the UN estimates. Meanwhile, the global population will increase due to the growing birth rates in developing countries.
A quarter of the population lost
Lithuanian population in 2019 constituted only 74,6 percent of that in 1991. According to Daumantas Stumbrys from the Lithuanian Social Research Centre, only in Latvia and Georgia the population decrease was of a similar scale. Georgia’s depopulation, however, was mainly due to the lost territories during the war against Russia in 2008.
According to Stumbrys, the high level of emigration was the main culprit in Lithuania’s population contraction.
“For around 20 years until 2019, we had 30,000 people leaving Lithuania every year. The natural population loss, when more people die than are born, was responsible for an annual decrease by another 10,000 people,” he said.
Last year, however, more people came to Lithuania than left. The positive immigration was mainly due to the arrivals from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
According to Stumbrys, immigration to Lithuania from the east was a positive phenomenon. The visa facilitation for Belarusians could further increase the immigration rate, he said.
“Over the past 30 years, we have not reached a breakthrough in emigration. On the other hand, immigration processes are getting more liberal, mostly thanks to the geopolitical and economic situation,” Stumbrys said.
Society’s mental health
However, the researcher said that a single factor could not explain Lithuanians’ high emigration rate. According to the previous surveys, many Lithuanians left their country due to economic reasons. But the overall societal health could have also been at play.
“For several decades, Lithuania has had one of the highest suicide rates in the world. This is the major indicator measuring public mental health. If we do not want to live not only in Lithuania but also to live in general, something is wrong,” Stumbrys said.
A decreasing rate of emigration is, therefore, a sign of an improving societal mental health, he added.
Juozaitis, who first mentioned Lithuania’s drastically shrinking population, is a member of ‘Lietuva yra čia’ (Lithuania is here), a right-wing political movement. It supports traditional families and proposes mimicking Poland in supporting multi-child families financially to increase birth rates.
Stumbrys noted that the Polish policy has not been effective so far, while the state must support all families equally.
According to the researcher, liberalising immigration processes could help increase the population, while addressing birth rates would be more complicated.
“The issue is not only about making people want to stay,” he said, “but also making them want to have children”. “It depends on the work-life balance. Reconciling financial and personal goals is one of the major questions in demographic policies,” Stumbrys added.
Truth. Lithuania is not the fastest-shrinking country in the world, but the country’s depopulation rate is the second-highest in the world, according to the UN data. Lithuania’s population has been decreasing due to emigration and lower number of births than deaths. Some politicians use such statistics for promoting the policies to support multi-child families.