Countries With Shrinking Populations

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Experts have predicted that by the year 2100, the world population will eventually stabilize and stop increasing in size. I
  • Experts have predicted that by the year 2100, the world population will eventually stabilize and stop increasing in size.
  • The population growth rate in African countries has been the highest while the former Soviet countries and countries in Asia, Europe and Oceania have been exhibiting a declining population growth rate.
  • Factors like political and economic instability, war, low birth rates, and a higher emigration to immigration ratio cause a country to see a negative population growth rate.

Although the global population has been growing steadily, this growth is not uniform across the world. Some countries, especially those in Africa, have experienced a massive rise in population, while those in other parts of the world, especially Europe, have witnessed their populations shrink. Experts have predicted that by the year 2100, the world population will eventually stabilize and stop increasing in size.

The table below shows 21 countries that have experienced a negative population growth rate between 2015 and 2020 as per United Nations data. Interestingly, with the exception of Japan (Asia), Cuba (North America), and Nauru (Oceania), the remaining countries on the list are all from Europe. 

What Causes Populations To Shrink?

Population decreases when mortality rates outweigh fertility/birth rates. Image credit: noEnde/

Factors like political and economic instability, high crime rates and war, higher emigration to immigration ratio, low birth rates, racial persecutions, poverty and unemployment, natural disasters, and severe weather conditions can cause a country to experience a negative population growth rate. 

The Majority Of Countries With Shrinking Populations Are Located In Europe

As observed in the table below, several European nations like Latvia, Bulgaria, and Croatia (the top three) that were previously part of the Soviet Union have experienced shrinking populations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union (1988-1991), these countries emerged as independent nations. However, their economies suffered drastically as they were unable to adapt to the sudden sociopolitical changes including the transition to a market economy and democracy. Soon, unemployment issues and other socioeconomic problems gripped these nations forcing their youth to leave their homelands in search of better opportunities elsewhere. These countries also experienced high mortality rates among men due to the stress associated with economic hardships and high rates of smoking and alcoholism. These factors combined to reduce the population of these nations.

In other European countries like Italy and Portugal that were not part of the Soviet Union, decreased fertility rates and sluggish economies led to fewer births and increased emigration of youth to other countries, respectively. These factors acted to decrease the populations of these countries.

Countries From Other Parts Of The World With Shrinking Populations


Japan is the only Asian country with a shrinking population. In Japan, the major cause driving the fall in population is low fertility rates. The country experienced a historic low in fertility rates at 1.26 children per woman in 2005. Several factors like fewer marriages, later marriages, increased involvement of women in the workforce, increase in nuclear family households, and high cost of living have decreased the fertility rate in the country. 


Cuba enters the list from North America, the only country to do so from the continent. It is estimated that the population of the country will decrease by about 1 million by 2025. The factors propelling this demographic shift include low birth and fertility rates and high emigration levels. The country also has the oldest population in Latin America.


The Oceanian island country of Nauru also has its own story. Following independence in 1968, Nauru became one of the countries with the highest GDP per capita in the world. Its rich deposits of phosphate sustained its prosperous economy. However, with the exhaustion of phosphate deposits and in the absence of a stable alternative source of income, the country's economy rapidly declined to near bankruptcy. This economic downturn forced people out of the country in search of better living conditions, leading to population decline in Nauru.

Effects Of Shrinking Populations

As populations shrink due to low fertility rates, the emigration of the young workforce, or both, the percentage of aged in the population increase, acting as a burden on the national economy. Image credit: Sira Anamwong/

Although it might appear that a smaller population might be beneficial to the country, it is not always so. The composition of the population is what determines the health of the population. In most of the countries with shrinking populations, the percentage of young people is decreasing due to high emigration rates or low fertility and birth rates. Thus, these countries have increasingly aging populations which mean fewer young people in the workforce at the detriment of the economic growth of the nation. With older populations, the burden on the economy rises as more budget needs to be assigned by the government to care for the elderly. To address these issues some countries with shrinking populations are trying to remodel their economies to attract the youth or provide incentives to couples to have more children.  

Countries With Shrinking Populations

RankCountry2015-20 Population growth rate (%), Source: UN
14Bosnia and Herzegovina-0.22

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