Expert: Population Drop Not 'Fatal' Per Se

Andres Vikat Source: Photo: ERR

Estonia's population decline and the supposed accompanying problems were the talk of last night's weekly ETV program Vabariigi Kodanikud.

Pessimistic forecasts predict Estonia's population, currently at 1.29 million, will fall to 1 million by 2050.

But Andres Vikat, the head of social and demographic statistics at the UN's Economic Commission for Europe, said a slight decrease in population is not in itself a major problem. Moreover, Vikat said, many Estonians are just temporary migrants and Estonia actually has a high rate of return to the homeland.

A declining population, Vikat said, will not necessarily impede growth or lower a country's quality of life. Many countries continue to be successful despite negative population trends, he said, with around half of EU member states having declining population.

"The problems arise when it is no longer possible to raise the quality of life and when the nation's health or education level is declining and thereby the competitiveness of the nation as a whole. But the decreasing number is not in itself something fatal," Vikat said.

The expert said there is currently a high proportion of Estonians, and more broadly Eastern Europeans, who are at the age where they are most likely to travel, which he said explains active migration flows.

"This is due to the fact that at the end of the Soviet era the birth rate was really high, the generation born during the 1980s and the Singing Revolution. All of these youths have reached the age of traveling - they go explore the world, they go study, to Australia or the UK. This positive demographic support will disappear when the smaller 1990s generation reaches the traveling age," he said.

Another telling fact, Vikat said, was that although there is much talk of Estonia's declining population, the country actually has one of the highest rates of repatriation in Europe.

"For example, one European sociological study finds that Estonia, Ireland and Slovakia have the highest share of people with international work experience. Actually, a lot of people come back too," he said.

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