334,000 Hungarians disappeared – preliminary census results reveal

March 03. 2023. – 09:10 AM


334,000 Hungarians disappeared – preliminary census results reveal
A man fills in the online census questionnaire at his home in Nyíregyháza, 1 October 2022 – Photo by Attila Balázs / MTI


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Preliminary census findings suggest that the population of Hungary has been declining at an accelerating rate since 2001, from 1.7% in 2001 to 3.4% today, and the picture is even worse if we exclude the impact of immigration. In annual terms, this is the same as the decline in the last decade of the Kádár era, when the decline was 3.1 per cent within 10 years. The number of children under 14 has dropped by a smaller degree, but the expert says it is too early to say whether this is a reversal linked to the state's introduction of family subsidies. At the same time, the aging of the population is relentless: the number of 15-65 year olds has fallen by 612,000, while the number of those over-65 has risen by 318,000. Certain parts of the country are emptying at an alarming rate.

Imagine that from now on, every Békés County soccer team is missing a player and there is no referee on the pitch.

Proportionally, this is exactly how many people the south-Hungarian county lost between the 2011 census and last year's population count: its population fell by 12.6 percent, or almost an eighth. This made Békés become the second least populated county in the country after Somogy, while in 2011 it was only fourth from the bottom.

Of course, this is not the only shocking or startling figure from the preliminary data of last autumn's census – published on the KSH (Hungarian Central Statistical Office) website in mid-February – but it is one of the most striking. There are, however, plenty of extreme indicators, whether at national, county or regional level, or by settlement type or age structure. We reviewed the numbers with demographer Csaba G. Tóth of the Centre for Economic and Regional Research and the Institute of Economics (Közgazdaság- és Regionális Tudományi Kutatóközpont Közgazdaságtudományi Intézet) and Corvinus University.

The main indicator is the population size itself: according to the census, the number of inhabitants in Hungary on 1 October 2022, the so-called ideal date of the census, was 9.604 million, which is 334,000 less than in 2011, and represents a 3.4 percent decrease in population. This is a huge number. According to the latest data, this is essentially the entire population of Veszprém county (335,000), or equal to the population of districts V, VI, VII, VIII, IX and X of Budapest combined.

The 3.4 percent decrease itself is likely a historical record, as the number of Hungary's inhabitants has never before decreased by so much between two censuses. Only this time, instead of 10, 11 years had passed between the two censuses. If we look at this 3.4 percent over time, it comes to 3.1 per cent, which is the same as in the period between 1980 and 1990, which was the negative record so far," the expert points out.

So the period between 2011-2022 did not break the negative record of population loss set during the decline of the Kádár-era Hungary, it only matched it.

The impact of migration on Hungary's population is growing – and this is good for Hungary. Although anti-immigrant rhetoric occasionally appears in the government's communication, the reality is that international migration has brought a visible surplus over the past ten years – i.e. more immigrants have settled in Hungary than those who have left.

The difference between immigration and emigration over this eleven-year period is 131,000 – roughly the population of Budapest's 13th district or Győr, for example – so immigrants have added around 12,000 people a year to the population of Hungary.

This 131,000 plus of international migration is also important from a psychological point of view – not because it highlights the difference between the government's words and actions, but because without it, Hungary's population would have fallen below the psychological threshold of 9.5 million by the 2022 census. In fact, the balance of births and deaths produced a deficit of 464,000, i.e. on average 42,000 more people died each year than were born (a loss of population exceeding the size of a town the size of Dunakeszi or the entire 6th district in Budapest).

"The aging of the population is not only accelerating, but it varies greatly from region to region. Our forecast is that this regional disparity will increase, with the so-called old-age dependency ratio in Hungary rising from 32% to 47% by 2050, but the gap will widen so that this indicator will be 60% in South Transdanubia, while in Central Hungary, which includes the capital, it will be only around 40%," Csaba G. Tóth says.

Census data also indicates that it's not just the proportion of those over the age of 65 that has grown, but the proportion of 0-14 year-olds has increased as well – although the change is small: their number went from 14.6 to 14.7 percent. Whether this is due to the government's family benefit measures over the past decade is too early to tell, the expert says. "Despite the decline in the population of childbearing age, the number of births has indeed not fallen, with the fertility rate now around 1.5, compared to the previous 1.2.

Government programs certainly have a role to play in this in the short term, but it remains to be seen whether this has just pushed families to have children earlier or whether the measures will really have an impact on the country in the long term."

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