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Despite record low births Estonian population reaches 1.37 million

Infant with their parent.
Infant with their parent. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

As of January 1, 2024, the population of Estonia stood at 1,366,491 – up 607 on year. This increase was thanks to positive net migration, however, as the country saw a record low number of births in 2023, Statistics Estonia said Thursday.

In 2023, there were 10,721 births and 15,832 deaths recorded in Estonia, according to preliminary figures published this week. Based on registered migration data, a total of 20,209 people immigrated to Estonia and 14,491 emigrated from Estonia as well.

On year, the number of births, deaths and incoming immigrants all fell, while the number of emigrants leaving the country had increased.

Like 2022, last year was characterized by a record low number of births in Estonia – and 925 fewer than in the year before, according to Statistics Estonia leading analyst Terje Trasberg.

"In 2023, there were 5,111 fewer births than deaths, while 5,718 more people moved to Estonia than left for abroad," Trasberg noted. "Therefore, the positive net migration outweighed the negative natural increase and helped maintain a marginally positive population change."

A total of 10,721 children were born in Estonia in 2023, marking the lowest number of births recorded in the country since 1919, when statistics first began being consistently published. This also marked the first time that the number of births fell below the 11,000 mark.

Last year's figure also usurped the total birth rate for 2022 as the lowest seen in the past 100 years.

"There are several reasons behind the low birth rate," Trasberg noted. "The current childbearers are largely from the small generations of the 1990s, but the decline is much steeper than the number of women exiting active childbearing age would explain."

Even more significantly than by demographics, birth rates are also affected by the current situation in Estonia as well as in the world at large – heightened economic and political uncertainty and the general rise in the cost of living have led families to postpone having children.

Unfortunately, the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has not had a positive impact on the number of births, Statistics Estonia noted. In 2022, neighboring Latvia and Finland likewise reported their respective lowest number of births in a century as well, with a new negative record expected in 2023, preliminary data suggests.

The pre-pandemic – i.e. from 2010-2019 – annual average number of deaths in Estonia stood at 15,545. In both 2021 and 2022, the annual number of deaths significantly exceeded this average. While still some 300 more than the previous decade's average, the total number of deaths registered in Estonia last year nonetheless returned closer to pre-pandemic levels at 15,832.

Migration figures much lower than in 2022

According to registered migration data from the population register, a total of 20,209 people immigrated to and 14,491 people emigrated from Estonia last year. This means that net migration in 2023 was positive, with arrivals outnumbering departures by 5,718.

Last year, 57 percent of all immigrants to Estonia – 11,529 people – were of Ukrainian citizenship. On year, the number of immigrants with Ukrainian citizenship had decreased threefold, or by 21,688. Nonetheless, the number of Ukrainian citizens to immigrate to Estonia last year was still several times higher than before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – up from 3,047 in 2021 and 2,374 in 2020.

According to preliminary figures, 6,515 Ukrainian citizens also left Estonia last year.

"4,451 Estonian citizens left and 2,865 citizens returned to Estonia last year," Trasberg noted. "But Estonians often do not register their migration, and thus the share of Estonian citizens among registered migrants is small. In 2023, there were 747 immigrants with Russian citizenship."

Unlike preliminary birth and death statistics, preliminary migration statistics are likely to be significantly revised, the analyst noted, as these preliminary figures are based on population register data, where people often fail to update their information as they emigrate from or immigrate to Estonia.

"Statistics Estonia will supplement migration data with data on unregistered migration, and the revised data will be released in May," she added.

Ukrainian refugees not fully reflected in data

The data on registered migration published by Statistics Estonia this week covers individuals who immigrated to Estonia in the last year and who had a place of residence in the country registered in the population register as of January 1, 2024. Thus, these figures do not include, for example, refugees from Ukraine who are currently staying in but do not have a registered place of residence in the country.

In Estonia, data on Ukrainian war refugees is also collected by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), which publishes the number of people applying for temporary protection. People who have been granted temporary protection were only included in the preliminary population figure if they were residing and had a registered place of residence in Estonia as of January 1 this year.

Estonia's latest preliminary population number is based on initial births, deaths and registered migration figures for the previous year. Statistics Estonia will publish a revised population figure in May.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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