The country’s population has been declining since 1993. The main reasons are migration, low birth rates and high mortality. What is next for us?
After the USSR collapsed, most of the post-Soviet countries started to face a decline in their population. Moldova was no exception. The number of people in our country have been shrinking since 1993. In 2009, experts within the UN study “Green Book of the Population of the Republic of Moldova” predicted the reduction to 2,6 million people by 2050. But it turned out to be too optimistic, as this figure was reached by January 1, 2022. Thus, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, at the start of the year the preliminary number of population was 2 604 000 people.
Last year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs made a projection of the world’s population by 2100, based on the natural growth/decline, fertility and migration trends. The European region is expected to have a pronounced depopulation around 20-45%, depending on the country. As regards Moldova, it has the worst forecast from UN experts among the post-Soviet countries: towards the end of the century the republic will lose half of its population.
Our country is generally on the brink of a demographic abyss. According to the Comprehensive Gender Assessment conducted by the UN team in Moldova, the country’s population will decrease to 1.7 million people by 2040. Experts expect that the demographic pyramid will be inverted. Almost half of the population will be people aged 50 and over, while one third will be the 60-plus generation. A significant gender imbalance will emerge in favor of older women.
The key factors of the decreasing number of citizens are migration, low birth rates, and high mortality rates, that can be called traditional, although the proportion of their influence varies from year to year. For example, before 2019, the decrease in population was largely influenced by net migration (it is still negative, but its volume has significantly decreased for obvious reasons), but in recent years the determining factor, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, has unfortunately been mortality. The number of deaths is increasing annually by more than 10%.
“Moldova has had a negative natural increase for several years in a row, and the absolute record was broken in 2020. This is an unprecedented situation in the country’s history, when for three years in a row the number of newborns is much lower than the number of deaths. In other words, the nation is dying,” expert Veaceslav Ionita says.
Low birth rate comes in tandem with mortality. The number of newborns decreases each year. If in 2014 a total of 40,709 babies were born in Moldova, by 2021 this figure dropped to 28,924. According to social studies, women and men would like to have up to three children. However, in practice, families prefer to have one child, and this happens at a fairly mature age. Problems with low incomes, unpaid care work, the need to combine work and family life, the limited availability of family-friendly jobs and quality public child care services play a role.
Moreover, Moldova is still among the top ten countries in Europe with the highest migration of skilled workers: about 40% of qualified specialists leave the country. Experts note that migration has a double negative effect on the country’s demography: alongside the direct loss of population, it also affects the birth rate. Families have no time to reproduce – statistics show that fewer children are born than usual during the periods of increased migration.
Migration of the working-age population and low birth rates also lead to a dramatic aging of the population. It is an alarming sign that among young people and mature age groups the lowest percentage of the population is registered in the 20-24 age group (only 5%) – a direct consequence of the low birth rate in the 1990s and the outflow of young people to study in other countries. Today, as of January 1, 2022, the largest proportion among the permanent residents of the country are the age groups of 35-39 years (8.1%) and 30-34 years (7.9%). However, in 20-30 years they will turn into the large category of 50-60-plus. Given the annual downward trend in birth rates, as well as the ongoing migration outflow of young and middle-aged people, the problem of the population aging will reach its peak before 2050.
Many countries have aging populations, but most of them are developed and have a channel to replenish the workforce through migrants. Moldova has no such channel. Demographic changes will lead to significant economic and social implications that will affect the labor market, goods and services, social protection, health care, and the pension system. The country will face a decrease in labor productivity and aggregate savings and, as a result, a slowdown in investment, demand and economic growth.
The authorities are making attempts to rectify the situation. Back in 2011, the National Strategic Program for Demographic Security of the Republic of Moldova for 2011-2025 was approved, but the results of the work are not visible. Obviously, we should not wait until the situation finally deteriorates. A careful review of existing programs is needed and a truly effective set of measures should be developed – at least to retain young people and stimulate the birth rate. The time is right to make a powerful breakthrough and bring demographic policy to the forefront.