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Latvia Is A Case Study in Population Decline - 9 30 2021 7 36 49 AM

NH: We often write about declining fertility rates and nations heading towards the dreaded “population decline.” And the three Baltic countries provide excellent case studies of what this looks like.

Number one example: Latvia. Its total population has declined every year since 1991. That's a compound annual shrinkage rate of -1.1% per year. 

Latvia Is A Case Study in Population Decline - Sept30 1.

There are two main drivers behind this trend: low fertility and high emigration.

In 1987, Latvia’s TFR hit a high of 2.15, just above replacement (2.1). But with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, its TFR tanked, hitting a low of 1.09 in 1998. The country soon enacted pro-natalist policies like child allowances and family housing stipends.

While the TFR has increased to 1.61, it's still well below replacement. 

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Latvia has also suffered from a mass exodus of young people. After the fall of the Soviet Union, many youths moved to Western Europe in search of higher wages.

When Latvia joined the EU in 2004, many more took advantage of open borders. According to the UN, Latvia’s net migration rate (per 1,000 population) for 2015-2020 is -7.6. That’s the second-lowest in Europe, just behind Lithuania. (Technically, Lithuania has experienced net positive immigration since 2019, though this uptick is not reflected in the UN data.)

Latvia's falling population is causing a host of economic problems. Compared to 2021, its working-age population is expected to decline -13.5% by 2030. Brain drain is a particular concern.

Currently, Latvia has the lowest number of doctors and nurses per capita than any other EU nation. During a pandemic, that’s not a good place to stand out. 

So is there any way to reverse this trend?

Latvia's Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania are trying to overcome population decline with pro-immigration policies.

But Latvia rejects this approach. Like Hungary and the Czech Republic, it fears that immigration will dilute its culture and heritage and thus accelerate the emigration of natives.

Instead, the government is amping up its baby bonuses. The child allowance was doubled this year. (For a recent update on pro-natal trends, see "Global Demography Review.")

In the end, Latvia is a warning to other countries. Once the demographic tide is far enough advanced to result in absolute population declines over more than a decade, it's difficult to reverse the erosion.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.