Estonia's population forecasts are no longer as pessimistic as they were twenty years ago, but the number of Estonians is still declining due to emigration, professor of demography Allan Puur says. However, the coronavirus crisis has not so far affected this either way, he adds.
"While at the beginning of the 2000s one could see such forecasts which dropped the population of Estonia to 700,000-800,000 by the middle of the 21st century, nowadays the outlook is definitely more positive," Puur said.
However, the number of Estonians living in the country is declining, according to Puur. "It has increased in recent years if you look at the figures from Statistics Estonia. At the beginning of 2021, there were 914,000 Estonians living in Estonia, but at the end of the 1980s this number was 960,000. Over the last decade, this number has grown, but in the long run, the number is still moving downwards," Puur said.
The reason for this is largely emigration, he added: "This is related to the fact that while it is possible for us to increase the population in general through migration, then in the long run, emigration has been predominant among Estonians and it has reduced the number of Estonians."
Puur said that the population processes in Estonia, as well as in other Eastern European countries, have become more similar to those in Western Europe.
"If we look at the last 30 years, we can really see that Estonia and other Eastern European countries have made up the difference, which was huge in the early 1990s. The average life expectancy data published by Statistics Estonia today also shows that we are behind Finland's average life expectancy by around three years, which is not a big difference. But if we look at what the situation was 30 years ago, the difference was still almost ten years. And if we look at the birth rate, it is known that the birth rate in Estonia is currently higher than in Finland," the scientist said.
Commenting on the change in the population of Latvia, Puur noted that, unlike in Estonia, there has been no return migration there, but since mostly non-Latvians have left, the number of Latvians has not decreased so much.
"In the case of Latvia, it is significant that the very large emigration there has been predominantly at the expense of non-Latvians, not the indigenous population, it has been largely driven by people of other nationalities.
Assessing the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Estonian population, Puur said that it has not had a major impact on population processes.
"This issue is perhaps the closest analogy to economic crises. Such crises can undoubtedly leave traces. But if we look for the main trend, where population processes are moving, there is probably no reason to express such an opinion that this crisis is somehow changing the long-term trends," Puur said.
Editor: Roberta Vaino