The demographic situation in Estonia is not bleak, mainly thanks to a slowing down of earlier rates of emigration, the social affairs ministry says.
Hede Sinisaar, head of the department for analysis and statistics at the ministry, said Saturday that: "The comprehensive approach does not see the current demographic processes and social development in such bleak colors."
Sinisaar was responding to a report by state agency Statistics Estonia penned by Mihkel Servinski which called for increased birth rates.
Looking at indicators other than birth rates, including migration and public health, leads to a far rosier picture, Sinisaar said, adding that in any case: "By extrapolating from the current trends, it can also be expected that the birth rates will continue to grow."
This does not mean that the birth rate will not decline in the near future, she added – quite the contrary as those from generation Y through to Z, born in the 1990s, the decade whose beginning heralded Estonia's restoration of independence, reach prime child-bearing age; this cohort in Estonia was particularly small in number.
At the same time, the ministry looks at the overall birth rate, Sinisaar said, and this has has recently remained fairly stable in Estonia, adding that efforts should be made to maintain or boost this situation.
Mihkel Servinski, lead analyst at Statistics Estonia, noted on the agency's blog (link in Estonian) mid-week that changes in the birth rate in Estonia during the last 30 years included, significantly, an increase in a woman's age at childbirth, with a concomitant fall in the number of women of childbearing age.
In the article, entitled "Estonia needs a new Singing Revolution that would fill the land with children," Servinski wrote that: "Noone can say exactly where the threshold runs, below which the sustainable development of that nation, language and culture referred to in the constitution is no longer possible. However, I would venture to say that we are very close to this significant limit."
Conversely, Servinski argued, if the birth rate reached 2.1 children, and external migration were balanced, the population decline would be halved over a 30-year period.
Hede Sinisaar at the social affairs ministry said that the continuity of population recovery is, however, related to the smooth functioning of the Estonian economy, culture and politics, as well as birth rates, noting that birth rates and rates of women in the workplace are both higher in those countries which have better conditions for childcare, parental leave, flexible work arrangements as well as better healthcare, housing, labor market policies and anti-discrimination policies.
With regard to the above, Sinisaar highlighted work done by demographer Allan Puur to back her claims, adding that volatile changes in policy would also be undesirable in any direction, meaning that what has already been achieved should be built on further.
Mihkel Servinski reiterated to ERR Friday that he sees a threat to the population and culture of Estonia.
He said: "The goal of the state is that culture and language endure, and this does not happen just like that, one has to work hard for it."
Servinski put the 2.1 children per woman figure as the desirable target for recovery, adding that third children were more likely to appear when support for third, and subsequent, children was forthcoming.
Estonia's population has been falling from a peak of over 1.5 million on the eve of the restoration of independence in 1991, to its current estimate of around 1.33 million. The decline has been arrested in the last decade and has even been reversed slightly, mainly due to immigration (which includes returning Estonian citizens who had been living overseas).
Editor: Andrew Whyte