Population Trends

General Background

Latvia lies on the Baltic sea. Its total length of boundary exceeds 1,800 km, including 500 km length of coastline.

On November 18, 1918 the independent Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. But under the Molotov - Ribentrop agreement in 1939 Latvia and other Baltic States were allocated to the Soviet sphere of influence.

Since August 21, 1991 Latvia is an independent, democratic republic. In the 1990s Latvia started transition to market economy.

Dynamics of Population and its Structure

After World War II it is necessary to distinguish the period from 1945 to 1989 when the population increased continuously and the period from 1990 when the population decreases systematically. Up to mid 1990s population dynamics was mainly due to international migration. Natural population movement played a minor role in the changes of population and its ethnic composition.

In the period between wars Latvia was an agriculturally oriented country and proportion of urban population was rather low. As a result of the forced pace of industrialization and city-oriented immigration from other Soviet republics, the urbanization rate during the Soviet period jumped from 35 per cent in 1939 to 52 per cent in 1959 and to about 70 per cent in the 1980s. Bigger cities grew at a higher rate. However, over the years 1991 - 2006 the proportion slightly decreased. In 2009 urban population is accounted for 68%.

The capital city, Riga, rates a specific place regarding disproportionate share of the population in Latvia. Before the war, one-sixth of Latvia's population was concentrated in Riga. By the end of the 1970s the concentration was up to over 33 per cent, or over one half of the entire urban population. Such a large proportion of the population in a single city is a very unusual case in the world. The situation changed after the restoration of Latvia's independence. The number of inhabitants in Riga (764 thousand according to the 2000 census and 713 thousand at the beginning of 2009) is systematically decreasing.

Already in 1930, 13 per cent of Latvian population were over 60 years old. The process of aging, particularly that of the native population, proceeded at a high rate in the post-war period. The proportion of the population over 60 years reached 17.4 per cent in 1970 and 22.3 percent in 2009. The proportion is slightly higher in towns.

Latvian population has always consisted of representatives from different nationalities and ethnic groups. According to the last pre-war population census in 1935 the total population in Latvia consisted of 77 per cent of Latvians and only 8.8 per cent of Russians. Permanent minority in Latvia has been Jews (in 1935 - 4.9 per cent) and Germans (3.3 per cent). The proportion of other nationalities was insignificant (6 per cent).

During the period from 1940 up to the first post-war national census in 1959 the number of Latvians in Latvia had decreased from 1.5 million to 1.3 million people, which is about 200,000 less than before war. Up to present this loss has not been made up by either natural or migration growth or assimilation of minorities. This is unique case in the history of nations with a million and more people. Just after the war the proportion of Latvians was rather high exceeding 80-85 per cent of the total population. It was due to the repatriation of Germans before the war as well as killing of Jews and Gypsies during the war.

Post-war deportations, particularly of Latvians, and immigration of newcomers from other Soviet republics had a substantial impact on the ethnic situation in Latvia. Latvia distinguished among European states by the very high immigration rate and proportion of its foreign-born populations (26 per cent in 1989). Among non-Latvians the proportion was even 51 per cent. The amount of Latvians gradually increased from 1,298,000 in 1959 to 1,387,000 in 1989 but it was still 79,000 less than in 1935. The proportion of Latvians in the total population had decreased from 62 per cent in 1959 to 52 per cent in 1989.

There was a rapid increase of Slavonic population in Latvia: Ukrainians - 3.1 times, Belarussians - 1.9 times and Russians - 1.6 times. In the 1990s and early XXI century the changes in the ethnic composition are of another character. For the first time after the war the proportion of Latvians tends to increase gradually (57.7 per cent according to CSB data). However, CSB publishing the 2000 census data about ethnicity used the information from Population register and not recognized ethnic awareness by individuals during census thus ignoring the impact on ethnicity created by assimilation. The calculations made by the Centre of Demography of the University of Latvia show that the proportion of Latvians in 2000 was by almost 2 per cent points higher (59.5%) than that published by CSB. According to the Centre of Demography in 2003 there lived 60.3% Latvians, 28.4% Russians, 3.6% Belarussians, 2.3% Poles, 2.2% Ukrainians, 1.3% Lithuanians and 1.9% other ethnicities in Latvia.

The reinstitution of the institution of Latvia citizenship was restored in 1992. The citizenship law was adopted in 1994. Still high proportion of resident population is non-citizens of Latvia (16 per cent in 2009). Russians make up two-thirds of this group, Belarussians and Ukrainians - about 20 per cent.

Approximately 85 per cent of the population live in families. In the period up to 1989 the amount of families continuously grew. In 1989 compared to 1959 the average family size slighly decreased from 3.18 to 3.12 persons. In 2000 this amount decreased to 2.84. However one should take into account that during last census internationally recognized narrow interpretation of family was used that differs from the Soviet period census approach.

There is a decrease in the amount and proportion of complex families (consisting of members from three and more generations and various levels of relatives) in the total number of families.

During this time period the proportion of pensioners from total population decreased by 1.8 percentage points.Demographic projections show that after 2010 the number and proportion of pensioners will rapidly grow.



Up until the 19th century, low indicators of fertility were typical in Latvia, particularly in the northern and western parts (Kurland and Livland). The overall and marital fertility indicators in Latvia, where the predominant traditional religion was Lutheran, demonstrate a relatively linear decrease down. More essentially fertility started decline in the last third of the 19th century. Kurland, Livland, Estland and St. Petersburg were the first provinces in Czarist Russia to experience this decline.

Already shortly before World War I the total fertility rate (TFR) in Latvia was slightly under 3.0 births per woman, or about 10 per cent lower than needed for a full replacement of generations. Between the two World Wars, when Latvia had national independence and sovereignty, fertility decreased steadily, reaching its lowest level during the Depression years (TFR in 1934-1935 2.0). After that it increased slightly, especially at the end of 1930s when the government made special efforts to stimulate fertility.

Latvia experienced a moderate baby boom after the war, followed by a fertility decline, particularly in the first half of the 1960s. In the mid - 1960s TFR decreased to 1.7 which was one of the lowest in the world.

After the introduction of some measures for stimulating fertility it increased perceptibly, and in the second part of the 1980s was slightly above the average European. The TFR, which had fluctuated between 1.7 and 1.9 for an extended time period, again rose above 2.0 in the mid -1980s and in 1986 - 1988 reached a maximum (2.15). For ethnic Latvians this indicator was higher than the average for other ethnicities. Special calculations revealed that various factors promoted the increase of specific birth rate in the 1980s, but the most important were positive changes in women's age structure and marital fertility rates. Latvia is a unique example of how the purposeful involvement of specialists and policy makers in stimulating fertility produced undeniable results.

In the 1990s, the situation aggravated rapidly. Since 1988 the indicators for number of births and also special indicators of fertility are falling. In 1998 compared to 1988 the TFR dropped from 2.16 to 1.11 and only in the early XXI century it sightly increased (in 2008 to 1,45). Never before in Latvia's history the fertility rate had been so low. As a result, Latvia had one of the lowest fertility in the world.

The number of births to out of wedlock mothers continue to rise. If in 1980 the percentage of live births out of wedlock was 12.5 and in 1990 16.9, then in 2006 it went up to 43.4 per cent.

Latvia is notorious for the high rate of abortions. The number of legal abortions has been decreasing since the 1970s. In 2006   registred 53 legally induced abortions per 100 live and stillbirths.

To pacilitate children upbringing in families and support adoption allowances were introduced in 2004.Since 1 October 2004 the allowance after child birth was increased but  from 2005 additional allowance is  provided to the maternity allowance. In 2005 substantial changes were introduced in the order of receiving child care  allowance. During the first year after child birth the allowance was egual to the parent's previous salary but for the unemployed thespecified amount was increased.The regulations have been improved all the time. Since 2008 working parents are  entitled to parents allowance.

A topical issue for Latvia is to improve possibilities of looking after small, especially from 2-4 years old children. The chain of pre-school education establishments and alternative supervision types have to be developed because the demand exceeds supply. Family policy and  allowances are directed to facilitate childbirth not simply to support children upbringing.

Nuptiality and Divorce

The Baltic marriage pattern at the end of the 19th century was in an intermediate position between West and East European patterns, but features of the Western pattern were more visible. Frequent postponement of marriages and spread intra - family control were characteristic features of marital and reproductive behaviour in northern and western parts of Latvia. The tendency towards earlier marriages and the decrease of the proportion of unmarried persons, so typical in many European countries, was not noticeable in Latvia till its incorporation into the USSR.

The change of the political and social system in the 1940s substantially influenced family - marital relations, particularly the characteristics of nuptiality. The marriage and divorce rates increased rapidly. The reported crude marriage rate in Latvia was very high till the end of the 1980s (9.5 in 1986 - 1988). However, since 1989 it has decreased constantly (7.2 in 1992 and 4.3 in 2003). It can be partly explained by an increasing proportion of consensual unions involving no formalities.

In Europe Latvia distinguishes with rapid decrease of the first marriages, and total female and male first marriage rates have dropped under 0.50, indicating that at the present intensity of contract marriages at least a half of women and men will never marry.

High level of divorce has been one of most actual demographic issue since the mid - 1960s. It has been one of the highest in the world, reaching 5.5 divorces per 1,000 population in 1979 and 1992. The divorce ratio per 100 marriages came to 50 or more since the early 1970s. It was  48 in 2008. After 1992 the total divorce rate has been decreased (from 0.84 for males and 0.79 for females in 1992 to slightly under 0.4 in 2001 - 2004).  However, since 2005 it has increased (0,54 in 2008). Out of total number of divorces, two - thirds of partners had children.

Mortality and Natural Increase

Until World War II the statistics on morbidity and mortality, as well as the average life expectancy in Latvia were comparable to, or even slightly better than, the average figures for Europe. Even at the end of the 1950s, male life expectancy in the Baltics remained higher than in Eastern and Southern Europe on the whole. For females it was higher than the average level in Europe. However, during the following decades, this position was lost. Only from 1990 till 1995 life expectancy decreased by four years for males and by two years for females. More than 80 per cent of the total life expectancy decrease was due to mortality increase in working ages. Currently, the average life expectancy at birth in Latvia (67.2 years for males and 77.9 years for females in 2008) is one of the lowest in Europe. However, the average life expectancy increased in the last years.

Infant mortality in the Baltics had always been lower than in the rest of the Czarist Russia or in the USSR. By 1988-1989 infant mortality rate according to the Soviet definition had fallen to 11 per 1,000, and the value was close to the level in many developed countries. In first half of the 1990s the rate has increased considerably, reaching 18.8 in 1995. However, by the end of the 1990s it declined again reaching 10.4 in 2000 and 6.7 in 2008.

With a rapid decrease of fertility and growth of mortality the natural population increase in Latvia is negative starting from 1991. For ethnic Latvians it is also negative starting from 1991. The negative natural increase rapidly became bigger. In 1995 it reached the amount of 17,336 people. The figure for 2000 is -11,957 people and for 2008 even -7058. In 1995 - 2008 in all 33 larger administrative-territorial units  (excluding district of Riga) this depopulation situation could be observed. The situation of depopulation when the number of deaths exceeds the number of births and population decline on the whole will be observed also in the nearest future.