Countries With The Biggest Population Decline

By Jessica Dillinger March 16 2018 in World Facts

A city street in Vilnius, Lithuania. Partially due to brain drain, Lithuania is a country with a declining population rate. Editorial credit: Katsiuba Volha /
A city street in Vilnius, Lithuania. Partially due to brain drain, Lithuania is a country with a declining population rate. Editorial credit: Katsiuba Volha /

The United Nations projects that the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 before peaking at 11.2 billion by 2100. As many people are stunned by these figures, the truth is that the world's population growth is not evenly distributed. While many countries have populations that are increasing, whether it be gradual or quick, there are a handful of countries whose populations are actually shrinking. These countries are discussed below.

Countries With a Declining Population

Andorra (-3.61%)

Andorra, a small mountainous country sandwiched between France and Spain, only has a population of 77,821 people to begin with. Between the years 2010 to 2015, the United Nations reported that Andorra had the largest population decline in the world, at -3.61%. As quality of life in Andorra is excellent - the country's life expectancy is one of the world's longest - the major factor behind its population shrinkage is actually a low birth rate. Per every 1,000 women in Andorra, 8 give brith. In addition to this birth rate, which is among the world's lowest, Andorra is difficult to immigrate too, which leaves the population with little ways to grow outside of birth rate.

Syria (-2.27%)

Syria's population loss has been largely due to the Syrian Civil War, a brutal war that has been ravaged in the country since 2011. While those fortunate enough to leave have done so, the war itself has also been the source of a catastrophic loss of life. Estimates for the amount of lives lost throughout the war so far stand somewhere between 350,000 to 500,000 people. In addition to this, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that around 7.6 million Syrians have become displaced.

Lithuania (-1.63%)

Lithuania is home to the world's third largest population decline at -1.63%. Formerly a member of the Soviet Union, the economy of Lithuania has improved greatly over the past few years, as well as the quality of life. However, the country has experienced a serious bout of brain drain, with a large amount of its young residents leaving the country to work elsewhere within the European Union. Countries that are a member of the European Union have an agreement that allows residents of its countries to work freely within the countries of the EU. Lithuania has been an EU member since 2004.

Georgia (-1.21%)

The Eurasian country of Georgia has the world's fourth largest population decline, with the country having lost -1.21% of its population between 2010 and 2015. A combination of a low birth rate and a high migration rate are to blame for the population decrease in Georgia. Many Georgians emigrate from the country in search of economic opportunities, with places like Europe, North America, and Australia being popular destinations.

Latvia (-1.18%)

Latvia has the fifth highest decline in population in the world, at -1.18%. Like its neighbor of Lithuania, Latvia faces the challenge of emigration, with many of its younger residents moving to other areas of the EU in search of work. Latvia has been a member of the European Union since 2004. However, again like Lithuania, the economic situation in Latvia is improving, which may prompt those who have emigrated to eventually move back. However, the birth rate in the country remains low.

Is Japan's Population Declining?

In recent years, the alarming rate at which Japan's population has been declining has been prevalent in the media. Although Japan's population is not shrinking as quickly as some of the other countries on this list, the country still has a population growth in the red. The population growth of Japan occurs at a rate of -0.12%, which means that Japan's population is actually shrinking. Today Japan's population sits at over 100 million, for a grand total of around 126,672,000. The negative population growth is mainly due to a very low birth rate (there are around 8 births per 1,000 Japanese women) and an even lower rate of immigration to the country.

Like many highly industrialized countries, Japan's older population is growing at a higher rate than other age groups in the country. It is predicted that in 50 years, 40% of Japan's population will be over the age of 65. This also contributes to the country's low birth rate.

Common Factors Related to Population Decline

Increased Education, Decreased Birth Rates

Education is one of the leading factors contributing to declining birth rates in certain countries. With greater access to job opportunities, many women are now more likely to put off having children until a later age, if they choose to have children at all. While some people may make the personal choice to not have children, others may find the cost of living too high for raising children. Also, the access to birth control helps women have control over how many children they have and when they have children.

Brain Drain

In many places, concurrent availability to quality education and lack of rewarding job opportunities will prompt young members of the workforce of a country to emigrate to places where they believe they will find better jobs and be able to live out more fulfilling lives. Additionally, when the economy and infrastructure of a country are not sufficient to meet personal needs, its people are bound to seek these securities elsewhere instead of suffer within their own homelands. This is a phenomenon known as brain drain.

Political Unrest & War

When a country witnesses political unrest or a civil war, its citizens feel increasingly threatened and become more likely to flee elsewhere in search of safe haven. While leaving one’s homeland is never easy, growing tensions between opposing political parties or sectarian violence caused by conflicting religious groups jeopardizes the safety and security of innocent civilians. High death rates negatively impact the population growth of a country. Under such dire circumstances, as we have seen in Iraq and Syria very recently, people are left with little reason to continue staying in their homelands, when a promise of greater hope may lie beyond their nation’s borders. This, of course, affects population growth.

Countries With The Biggest Population Decline

RankCountry or Territory Population Growth (%)
1Andorra -3.61
2Syria -2.27
3Lithuania -1.63
6Saint Helena -1.04
9Wallis and Futuna-0.62
19Falkland Islands-0.15
20Puerto Rico-0.14
22Bosnia and Herzegovina-0.13
26American Samoa-0.04
28U.S Virgin Islands-0.02

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