Countries With Shrinking Populations

Experts have predicted that by the year 2100, the world population will eventually stabilize and stop increasing in size.
Experts have predicted that by the year 2100, the world population will eventually stabilize and stop increasing in size.
  • 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 20 countries with a negative population growth rate between 2015 and 2020 as per United Nations data. Interestingly, except for Venezuela (South America), Syria, and Japan (Asia), the 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, low fertility rates (fertility rate is the number of live births per 1,000 women of reproductive age), 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 that were previously part of the Soviet Union or allies have experienced shrinking populations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union (1988-1991), their economies suffered drastically as they could not 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 searching for better opportunities elsewhere. These countries also experienced high mortality rates among men due to the stress associated with economic hardships and high smoking and alcoholism rates. These factors combined to reduce the population of these nations.

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

Countries From Other Parts Of The World With Shrinking Populations


With a negative population growth rate of -1.12% between 2015 to 20, Venezuela ranks number 3 on the list of countries with shrinking populations. The only country from the Americas on this list, Venezuela's population crash is attributed to the economic and political crisis prevalent in the country in the present times. With no clear vision of the future, almost 15 to 19% of Venezuelans have left their country searching for a better life outside. In 2019, a poll by Consultores 21, a Caracas-based think tank, found that an average of 1.6 members of 48% of all Venezuelan families lived abroad. The country's high rates of emigration in recent years are unlikely to go down unless the country finds a permanent solution to its current crises. 


It is no surprise that Syria, a Western Asian country, had a negative population growth rate of -0.56% from 2015 to 2020. The civil war in the country that started in 2011 has been designated the worst human-made disaster since World War II by the United Nations. Over 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to leave their country to seek refuge in foreign nations. Many also lost their lives in the conflict, making Syria one of the countries with the world's fastest shrinking populations.


Japan is the only other 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, increased nuclear family households, and high cost of living have decreased the country's fertility rate. 

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.

Although 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 countries with shrinking populations, the percentage of young people decreases 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 to the detriment of the nation's economic growth. With older populations, the economy's burden 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 (%)
4Bosnia and Herzegovina-0.886
8Syrian Arab Republic-0.560

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