Estonia's population increased in 2020 but births continued to fall

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A child looking at the sea as a ferry approaches the Port of Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia's population increased last year due to positive net migration but more people died than were born, preliminary data from Statistics Estonia shows. 2020 had the lowest number of births since 2003.

On January 1, 2021, the population of Estonia was 1,329,460 persons, which is 480 persons more than at the same time a year ago. The population decreased by 2,590 persons due to a negative natural increase and increased by 3,070 persons as a result of positive net migration. 

Leading analyst at Statistics Estonia Ethel Maasing said there were more deaths than births last year.

"The natural increase remained negative. The main reason is that there is a large share of older persons in the population and the number of women in childbearing age is decreasing. Although the number of births decreased significantly, the population figure still increased thanks to positive net migration: 3,070 more persons moved to Estonia than left to go abroad," said Maasing

The spread of the coronavirus also has an effect on the number of births and deaths and migration. Maasing said the impact appeared quickest in migration, because countries considerably restricted immigration due to the virus.

"The spread of the coronavirus definitely had an impact on both births and deaths, but it is still early to say to what extent. Countries have adopted different strategies to control the virus and, at the moment, it can be said that the choices made in Estonia haven't so far caused a sharp increase in the number of deaths," added Maasing.

Population change, 2005-2020. Source: Statistics Estonia

In total, 13,130 children were born in Estonia in 2020, which is almost a thousand less than the previous year.

"The number of births hasn't been this low since 2003. The reason for this is the long-term decrease in the number of childbearing women. The small generation born in the 1990s has reached active family formation age, which leads to a decrease in the number of births," Maasing explained.

There were 15,720 deaths in 2020, which is 300 deaths more than the year before. In recent years, the number of deaths has been in the range 15,200–15,800.

"The number of people who died was highest in December, totaling slightly over 1,510. As a rule, this many people die in winter months when there are extreme weather conditions. We can analyze the causes of death in more detail at the end of spring," added Maasing.

The number of births and deaths, 1989-2020. Source: Statistics Estonia

External migration has had a positive impact on the population for the last six years. According to data on registered migration, 10,390 persons immigrated to Estonia and 7,320 persons emigrated from Estonia in 2020. Registered immigration decreased by 2,000 persons compared to the year before. As emigration remained at the same level, net migration was lower by 2,000 persons compared to 2019.

"Migration statistics are the most difficult to estimate based on preliminary data. In the spring, we'll supplement migration data with population register data and data on unregistered migration," said Maasing.

Migration flows increase when unregistered migration calculated on the basis of other registers is added to registered migration, because Estonian and other EU citizens do not register moving out of the country. This is the main reason for the increase in emigration. Immigration increases primarily because the same people move back, which is not reflected in the population register, as their leaving was not previously registered.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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