The global population is expected to balloon to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, with Africa’s population doubling in that time and five of the world’s six inhabited continents growing significantly. Eastern Europe, on the other hand, is rapidly shrinking.

Expand chart
Data: United Nations World Population Prospects; Map: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The big picture: According to the United Nations, the 10 fastest shrinking countries on Earth are in Eastern Europe. Japan, perhaps the country with the most oft-analyzed demographic challenges, is 11th. Many of those countries are struggling economically, with aging populations, a lack of skilled labor and — in some cases — restrictive immigration policies.

The fastest-shrinking countries

From 2017 to 2050, using UN projections: Countries outside Eastern Europe in bold:

  • 1-5: Bulgaria (23% decrease), Latvia (22%), Moldova (19%), Ukraine (18%), Croatia (17%)
  • 6-10: Lithuania (17%), Romania (17%), Serbia (15%), Poland (15%), Hungary (15%)
  • 11-15: Japan (15%), Georgia (13%), Portugal (13%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (13%), Estonia (13%)
  • 16-20: Lebanon (11.0%), Greece (11%), South Korea (10%), Albania (9%), Belarus (9%)
Case study

Bulgaria’s population is expected to drop more precipitously than that of any other country on Earth, declining by 1.7 million by 2050. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Sofia, the capital, and the metropolitan area surrounding it disappearing over the course of three decades.

Chief causes
  • Low birth rates: Total fertility rates range from 1.3 to 1.6 among the 10 fastest-shrinking countries, per the CIA Factbook. For reference, the U.S. rate is 1.9.
  • Departures: Millions of people have left Eastern Europe for wealthier Western European countries. 1 million Bulgarians live abroad, according to the Economist, 700,000 of them in other E.U. countries.
  • Low immigration: Germany’s birth rate is almost exactly the same as Bulgaria’s, but while Bulgaria’s net migration rate is negative, Germany is taking in more migrants than it is losing and as a result is shrinking far more slowly.
    • Paradoxically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, far-right anti-immigrant parties have fared best in areas with dwindling populations, and Eastern European countries have generally been unreceptive to refugees arriving in Europe. (Though, having reached Europe, those refugees are typically seeking settlement in wealthier countries.)
What it looks like

Per the Economist:

“This demographic catastrophe, concentrated in the countryside, finds its cruellest expression in Bulgaria’s neglected north-west, the poorest region of the poorest country in the European Union. Every year the nearby city of Vratsa, a former industrial hub fallen on hard times, shrinks by around 2,000 people. Employers say they cannot find skilled workers; locals say there is no work. People here are poorer, unhappier and likelier to leave than elsewhere in Bulgaria. Kalin Kamenov, Vratsa’s mayor, says that without investment and state support his town will be virtually extinct in ten years.”

Original story: Eastern Europe is shrinking before our eyes (7/21/18)

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 19,734,428— Total deaths: 728,612 — Total recoveries — 12,001,537Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,036,387 — Total deaths: 162,851 — Total recoveries: 1,656,864 — Total tests: 61,792,571Map.
  3. Politics: Pelosi says states don't have the funds to comply with Trump's executive order on unemployment — Mnuchin says Trump executive orders were cleared by Justice Department.
  4. Public health: Ex-FDA head: U.S. will "definitely" see 200,000 to 300,000 virus deaths by end of 2020 — Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective.
  5. Schools: Nine test positive at Georgia school where photo showing packed hallway went viral — How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on.
45 mins ago - World

Protests erupt in Belarus after "Europe's last dictator" claims election victory

A man lies on the ground in front of riot police in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Demonstrations broke out across Belarus on Sunday after a government exit poll predicted that President Aleksander Lukashenko, an authoritarian who has ruled the Eastern European country since 1994, had swept to overwhelming victory over a pro-democracy opposition candidate.

Why it matters: It's a precarious moment for the former Soviet republic, where decades of repression and a complete disregard for the coronavirus pandemic now threaten to topple "Europe's last dictator."

Scoop: Inside Trump's debate prep

Trump and Christie. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Two weekends ago, President Trump met with a group of his closest aides in the conference room of his Bedminster golf club to discuss a subject that has been weighing heavily on his mind: the three scheduled debates with Joe Biden.

Behind the scenes: In the room with Trump were his son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who role-played Hillary Clinton in Trump's 2016 debate prep sessions.