Today 15 December 2019, Sunday - Last updated at 14 December 2019

News 19 May 2019, at 11:03

Population Change in the Former Soviet Republics Between 1989 & 2018

Marime Font

 This map tells a dramatic story of change in the population of the 15 former republics of the Soviet Union between 1989 (before the breakup of the USSR) and 2018.

The most striking feature is the contrast between the loss of population in the former republics in Eastern Europe and the increase in population of Azerbaijan and the five “stans”. At the same time the population of Russia itself has declined only slightly.

The Countries
The map does not include the names of the countries. In order to help identify them here is a list linking the percentage change shown on the map, from most to least, to the name of the country.

Tajikistan (+75.9%)
Uzbekistan (+65.7%)>/li>
Turkmenistan (+55.5%)
Kyrgyzstan (+43.1%)
Azerbaijan (+40.7%)
Kazakhstan (+9.8%)
Russia (-0.35%)
Belarus (-6.97%)
Armenia (-9.12%)
Estonia (-15.93%)
Ukraine (-17.99%)
Moldova (-18.21%)
Lithuania (-23.85%)
Latvia (-27.24%)
Georgia (-31.44%)

Note: In three cases the land area on which these figures are based has changed over the period. A more valid comparison, at least for comparative purposes, would require eliminating this effect. Thus Russia (excluding Crimea from 2018 data) had a population decline of around 1.9%, while Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2018 data) had a population decline of around 26.18%.

In the case of Ukraine the author of the map observes that Ukraine’s 2018 number excludes Crimea (about 2.35 million people). While this suggests that the rate of population decline in the rest of the country may be less than the number shown on the map, the author also notes that Ukraine has not had an official census since 2001 and that its estimates do not account for emigration, so its actual population may be several million less than the 2018 data would suggest.

Apart from changes to national boundaries, population changes can be attributed to two broad sets of factors: (1) natural growth or decline as measured by the difference between birth and death rates and (2) net migration as measured by the difference between immigration and emigration.

Natural Growth/Decline

According to data issued by the World Bank, eight of the republics experienced overall natural growth during this period. In order from most to least they are: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia.

Moldova experienced some natural growth in the early part of the period, but is currently in decline.

Six have experienced an overall natural decline. In order from the least to the greatest decline they are: Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Ukraine.

See the following table for details:

Natural Growth or Decline for Selected Years (no. per 1,000 people per annum)

Country 1989 1996 2003 2010 2016 Rank
Armenia +15 +6 +5 +5 +3 7
Azerbaijan +20 +11 +8 +12 +10 5
Belarus +5 -4 -6 -3 -1 13
Estonia +4 -4 -3 0 -1 10
Georgia +9 +3 +2 +2 0 8
Kazakhstan +15 +5 +7 +14 +16 6
Kyrgyzstan +23 +16 +14 +20 +20 4
Latvia +3 -6 -5 -5 -4 14
Lithuania +5 -1 -3 -4 -3 11
Moldova +10 +3 -2 -1 -1 9
Russia +4 -5 -6 -1 0 12
Tajikistan +32 +26 +23 +25 +24 1
Turkmenistan +27 +19 +15 +18 +18 3
Ukraine +1 -6 -7 -4 -5 15
Uzbekistan +27 +21 +15 +18 +18 2

This table is adapted from World Bank data. (Countries are ranked from greatest increase to greatest decrease)

Much of the natural growth or decline can be explained by changes in life expectancy and fertility.

The following table shows World Bank data on life expectancy at birth (overall, male and female) and fertility rates (live births per woman) for each country for the years 1989 and 2016, the latest year for which World Bank data are available.

Country Life Expectancy at Birth (overall) yrs. Life Expectancy at Birth (male) yrs. Life Expectancy at Birth (female) yrs. Fertility Rate

Births per Woman

1989 2016 1989 2016 1989 2016 1989 2016
Armenia 68 75 65 71 71 78 2.6 1.6
Azerbaijan 65 72 61 69 69 75 2.8 1.9
Belarus 71 74 67 69 76 79 2.0 1.7
Estonia 70 78 66 73 75 83 2.2 1.6
Georgia 70 73 66 69 74 77 2.2 2.0
Kazakhstan 68 72 64 68 73 77 2.8 2.7
Kyrgyzstan 68 71 64 67 72 75 3.9 3.1
Latvia 70 75 65 70 75 80 2.0 1.7
Lithuania 71 74 67 69 76 80 2.0 1.7
Moldova 68 72 64 67 71 76 2.5 1.2
Russia 69 72 64 67 74 77 2.0 1.8
Tajikistan 63 71 60 68 67 74 5.3 3.4
Turkmenistan 63 68 59 64 66 71 4.4 2.9
Ukraine* 71 71 66 67 75 76 1.9 1.5
Uzbekistan 67 71 63 69 69 74 4.2 2.5

*The seemingly anomalous result for Ukraine is due to rounding: More precisely, overall life expectancy increased from 70.54 to 71.48, male life expectancy from 66.10 to 66.73 and female life expectancy from 75.20 to 76.46.

All 15 countries have experienced an overall increase in life expectancy and a decline in fertility rates over the period. However, there is a wide variation in overall life expectancy from a low of 68 in Turkmenistan to a high of 78 in Estonia.

These two countries are also the lowest and highest for male (64 and 73) and female (71 and 83) life expectancy. In many cases there is a wide gap between male and female life expectancies. In all countries except Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the fertility rate has dropped below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Although this may be offset to some extent by increased life expectancy, in the long run once the fertility rate has dropped below 2.1 the overall population can only be sustained through net immigration.

In a number of cases, notably Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the decline in fertility rates, although still above replacement, has been quite dramatic. Urbanisation has been cited as a significant factor leading to this decline.

Since 1989 all the countries except Russia and Belarus have experienced overall negative net migration, although migration has recently moved into more or less balanced position in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and (possibly) Ukraine.

The following table provides details:

Net Migration for Selected Years (no. per 1,000 people per annum)

Country 1985-90 1995-00 2005-10 2010-15 2017 RANK
Armenia -3.4 -14.2 -9.1 -3.4 -5.7 14
Azerbaijan -3.4 -3.0 0.2 0 0 4
Belarus -0.1 1.1 0.9 -0.2 0.7 2
Estonia 2.0 -4.8 -2.4 0 -3.2 6
Georgia -2.3 -16.0 -6.8 -5.6 -1.6 15
Kazakhstan -7.7 -17.6 -0.2 0 0.4 12
Kyrgyzstan -5.7 -1.4 -4.9 -6.3 -5.1 9
Latvia 3.2 -3.2 -8.0 -1.0 -6.1 8
Lithuania 2.0 -5.6 -10.1 -1.9 -6.1 11
Moldova -3.9 -6.4 -7.4 -8.3 -9.4 13
Russia 1.2 3.1 3.1 1.5 1.7 1
Tajikistan -1.5 -10.9 -1.7 -2.5 -1.1 10
Turkmenistan -2.0 -2.8 -2.3 -1.0 -1.8 5
Ukraine 0 -1.9 1.0 -0.2 0 3
Uzbekistan -3.9 -3.1 -3.3 -1.4 -2.2 7

The first four columns are based on UN data, while the 2017 data are CIA estimates. The countries are ranked from most positive to most negative net migration.

While the population change data shown on the map can be broadly explained by natural growth or decline, migration has also played a significant role in many cases. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union many people have returned to their countries of origin.

In the cases of the “stans” there was considerable out-migration of Russians, Ukrainians and others, accompanied by lesser inflows of people of ethnic Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Tajik, Kazakh and Uzbek origin. There has also been some movement of populations among these five countries.

Net Impact on Individual Countries

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: All six countries are shown on the map as having positive overall growth. While all have experienced negative net migration over the period, this has been outweighed by natural growth.

Among the six, Kazakhstan, at 9.8%, has had by far the smallest overall percentage increase in population. While this is due, in part, to its somewhat lower rate of natural growth than the others, it is mainly due to heavy losses to migration in the 90s.

Prior to 1991, Kazakhstan had a very large Russian population as well as around 1 million Germans, many of whom returned to their home countries.

However, things have turned around in recent years and Kazakhstan, alone among the six countries, is now experiencing positive net migration as many Kazakhs return to their homeland. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has now reached a balanced position with zero net migration.

Georgia and Armenia: Both have experienced natural growth during the period, but have lost population due to heavy emigration. Indeed, of all fifteen countries these two have experienced the greatest proportional loss to emigration.

In both cases conflict and its economic fallout was likely a significant factor. In the case of Armenia it was the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, while in the case of Georgia it was the South Ossetia war in 2008.

Of the two, Armenia has the lower overall loss because of its higher fertility rate during the period as a whole. However, its fertility rate has dropped dramatically in recent years and is now less than that of Georgia.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: The three Baltic countries have experienced a combination of natural decline and net out-migration. Of the three Estonia has experienced the least natural decline and the least proportional loss to emigration, while the other two are roughly comparable with Latvia having a slightly greater natural decrease and Lithuania a slightly greater loss to net migration.

When the three countries gained their independence large numbers of Russians were repatriated or chose to leave. Since then the membership of the Baltic countries in the European Union has facilitated further emigration in search of employment.

Moldova: Moldova experienced a natural increase in the early part of the period, which has since gone into reverse and its fertility rate is now the lowest of all 15 countries. This trend has been reinforced by steadily increasing levels of emigration, which may be at least partly due to the destabilizing effect of the Transnistrian war of 1990-92 and its economic fallout.

Belarus: Belarus has been able to maintain a balance between immigration and emigration over the period as a whole. Consequently its reduction in population is attributable to natural decline, which has occurred at a rate only exceeded by Latvia and Ukraine.

This is reflected in relatively low fertility rates and only moderate increases in life expectancy. The majority of immigrants have come from the former Soviet Republics, especially Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, most of whom were people of Belarusian descent returning to their homeland. The flow the other way is mainly to Russia and the EU in search of economic betterment.

Russia: Russia is the only country of the 15 that has experienced consistent (albeit modest) positive net migration during this period. Most of this is attributable to Russians returning home after the republics gained their independence. However, in spite of this, its population has fallen slightly since 1989 due to natural decline.

Although there has been some improvement in life expectancy, fertility rates have remained below replacement. The ten-year gap between male and female life expectancy has been attributed to a high rate of fatalities among working-age males caused by heart disease and other external causes such as accidents. Alcohol consumption has been flagged as a contributory factor.

However, this large gap between male and female life expectancy is not confined to Russia. Eight of the former republics recorded gaps of 9 or more years in 2016. By way of contrast, the average worldwide gender life expectancy gap is 4.5 years.

In 2009 Russia recorded overall population growth for the first time in 15 years, which has been attributed to better health care and some increase in fertility rates, while immigration continues to outpace emigration.

Ukraine: While acknowledging the uncertainty over Ukraine’s data noted above, its situation appears to be similar to that of Belarus, which is to say, zero net migration and natural decline. However, Ukraine’s natural decline has been the greater of the two, which accounts for its higher rate of population loss over the period.

Indeed, Ukraine has experienced the most rapid natural decline of all 15 countries with the least improvement in life expectancy and the second lowest current fertility rate. Currently, the Donbas conflict and lack of economic opportunity are significant factors driving emigration.


Birth Rates, Death Rates, Life Expectancy and Fertility:
Migration (2017 estimates): (note: these estimates are taken from “Country Comparison: Net Migration Rate”, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, USA.


A number of other sources were consulted including:

as well as Wikipedia sites on the demographics of each country.

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