Some Hungarian regions heading towards depopulation, demographic data reveals

March 10. 2023. – 07:55 AM

Some Hungarian regions heading towards depopulation, demographic data reveals
Elderly women playing rummy in a Berlin senior centre in September 2017 – Photo by Sean Gallup / Getty Images


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We often hear that there are less and less Hungarians. It is well known that Hungary's population has been declining for some time, (we recently wrote about the results of the latest census revealing this) and the rate of population loss is even expected to accelerate in the coming decades: the most optimistic scenarios predict that by 2050, there will be only 8.8 million people living in Hungary. At the time of the 2011 census, there were 9.9 million people living in the country, while the latest, 2022 census puts the population at 9.6 million. This is a decrease of 333,000 in a little more than a decade which passed between the two censuses. Researchers say the process is unstoppable, and that at the most, the rate of population decline can be slowed down.

It is also true that the population decline is not uniform: not all parts of Hungary have seen a decrease in population and there are significant differences in the rate of decline as well. Since the beginning of the 2000s, only Central Hungary, which includes Budapest, has seen an increase in its population (216 000 people) while North Hungary has seen a decrease of 184 000 and the region of Dél-Alföld of 149 000 (these two regions have suffered the sharpest decline).

Based on data from the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel, we will use graphs and maps to demonstrate what this process has looked like for each city and region, as well as what has happened in other European countries and what is expected in the future.

The number of the elderly in Hungarian cities is increasing

If we want to put it simply, an ageing society is one where the proportion of older people in the population increases. Between 2011 and 2021, this is exactly what happened in most Hungarian cities: the number of people aged 65 and over increased by an average of more than 2% per year, while the number of people aged 0-19, for example, grew much less. In Budapest, the average annual increase in the number of young people over the period was 0.3 per cent (which is practically stagnation), while the number of older people increased by 2.3 per cent.

The number of young people tended to stagnate (0.03% annual increase) in Győr as well, while everywhere else – Szeged, Nyíregyháza, Kecskemét, Miskolc, Székesfehérvár, Szombathely, Pécs and Debrecen – the number of the elderly has decreased. The most rapid rate of population ageing was observed in Nyíregyháza, where the number of elderly people increased by an average of 3.4% per year, while the number of young people decreased by 1.1%.

Recent census data also confirm this trend: between 2011 and 2022, the number and proportion of elderly people increased by 318,000, or 19 percent, while the number of children slightly decreased and the size of the working age population saw a significant decrease.

A similar trend can be identified in the capitals of the neighbouring countries: the elderly population increased by 1.7% in Vienna, 2% in Ljubljana and 4.2% in Bratislava, while in Zagreb and Bucharest the increase was less than 1%. However, in none of the cities did the number of children increase more than that of the elderly.

In Italy, there is a striking divide between north and south: in the lower half of the country, it is hard to find cities where the proportion of those aged 0-19 years did not fall in the ten years between 2011 and 2021, while the proportion of older people increased. Cities in northern Italy are also ageing, but not to the same extent as those in the south.

However, it was not only in the south of Italy that the number of young people decreased and the number of older people increased: the same was true in Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands and parts of Spain, among others. Stockholm is interesting because both the number of people aged 0-19 and the number of people aged 65 and over fell between 2011 and 2022, while the city's population grew by an average of 4% per year.

Looking at the age profile of the population of European capitals, Copenhagen is one of the 'youngest' cities: those between the ages of 20 and 35 are the most numerous in the Danish capital, which is almost reminiscent of the pyramid seen in developing countries. However, most European capitals have an age structure that resembles a bell (stagnating population) or the urn (shrinking, ageing population). Rome is a good example of the latter: the Italian capital's population is largely made up of people aged between 40 and 60.

In some parts of Romania, one-sixth of the population has disappeared in the last ten years

The map below shows even more clearly that the biggest decrease in population in Europe is in former socialist countries, the Balkans and the Baltic States. Regions where the population decreased between 2011 and 2021 are shown in yellow, and regions where it increased are shown in blue. The darker the shade, the greater the decline or increase.

It is clear that most regions in Hungary have experienced a decrease in population over this period. In Southern Transdanubia, the population decline was over 7%, but for example in Northern Hungary, which includes the typically poorer county of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, there was also a decline of almost 7% over ten years. This is not a small figure by European standards either, as the colour of the areas on the map indicates. By comparison, the total Hungarian population decreased by 6 percent between 1990 and 2019.

It is estimated that the population loss in the two regions mentioned above could be as high as 25-30% over the next three decades.

Of the Hungarian regions, only Pest county (5.8 percent) and West Transdanubia (to a very minimal extent) saw their population increase, while even the population of Budapest decreased by 0.6 percent. In the case of Pest county, the reason for the increase may be the migration of large numbers of people from the capital to the surrounding areas in recent years, which has created a number of problems for the municipalities affected. Three of the ten Hungarian municipalities with the highest population growth were in Pest County, according to a recent G7 survey. This process could accelerate in the future,

Budapest included, the region's population could grow by 8% by 2050.

Second on the list is Rajka, in Győr-Moson-Sopron county, whose population increased by 132% between 2011 and 2021, largely due to the influx of people moving from Slovakia, estimated at 7-8 thousand.

"Workers from Eastern Hungary are building houses for those moving from Slovakia to the north-western border area of Hungary" we wrote in our report on Rajka. This could also explain the population growth in the Western Transdanubian region.

It is also not a minor point that life expectancy at birth is highest in Central Hungary and Western Transdanubia, which includes Budapest, and much lower in Northern Hungary than in the other regions.

A similar trend can be observed across most of neighbouring Slovakia, with the level of decline being lower. However, the region bordering Austria, centred on Bratislava, has seen its population grow by almost 13% in ten years. In Romania, on the other hand, there were regions with a 16.1 per cent population decline, the highest in Europe over the period observed.

The divide between Italy's cities in the north and south is quite striking on the map, with most of the more economically developed northern regions seeing population growth (in many places between 3 and 6 per cent), while the southern regions typically saw a decline. The same is true for Portugal and a sizeable part of Spain.

In terms of population growth, Luxembourg and a region of Turkey are the top performers, with 24% more people living there in 2021 than ten years earlier (in Luxembourg's case, the size of the country also explains the rapid population growth.)

Population decline is expected to accelerate in Hungary after 2050

The UN's projection does not bode well for the future: according to their calculations, Hungary's population will drop by 9.5% by 2050, putting us in the same category as Poland, Portugal and Romania. Bulgaria and Latvia will suffer the biggest declines, with an expected 25.7% and 24.5% respectively by 2050. Luxembourg, on the other hand, will see the opposite trend, with a population increase of 24.6 per cent (which is hardly surprising given the previous map) but the Scandinavian countries are also expected to see an increase of more than 10 percent.

For almost all European countries, the urban population will increase by 2050. One of the few exceptions is Hungary, where the number of Hungarians living in urban areas is expected to fall by a mere 2.1 per cent. This also means that the predicted decline of nearly 10 percent of the Hungarian population will mainly take place in rural areas, but this process is already underway.

The situation is slightly different if we look at how the population of each country is projected to change by 2100. The rate of population decline and population growth is expected to accelerate, and there will be a number of countries that will start to see a decline in their population after 2050, including Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Hungary's population is expected to fall by 28.9%, by 2100, on a similar scale as Slovakia's. The Poles and the Portuguese will have overtaken us in terms of population decline, with Poland's population expected to fall by nearly 40 per cent and Portugal's by 33 per cent. But some projections are even more dire: by 2100, Bulgaria could lose more than half of its population (57.8%) and Latvia almost half (49.8%). Luxembourg and Norway, on the other hand, will have no such problems at the end of the century: by 2020, they will have 40.3% and 34.4% more people than in 2020.

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This article was written as part of the European Cities Investigative Journalism Accelerator project in collaboration with the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel. It is a series of media reports on the challenges facing European countries and cities. The project is funded by the Stars4Media programme.