Cyprus Table of Contents

In 1960, the last year for which there was an official census for the entire population of Cyprus, the island was home to 573,566 people. Official estimates held that there were 441,568 Greek Cypriots, 3,627 Armenians, 2,706 Maronites (in the future these two groups were to be counted as part of the Greek Cypriot community, according to the terms of the constitution of 1960), 103,822 Turkish Cypriots, and 24,408 others (mostly foreigners). According to government statistics, 81.14 percent of Cypriots in 1960, were Greek Cypriot (including Armenians and Maronites) and 18.86 percent were Turkish Cypriot. Republic of Cyprus statistics estimated the 1988 population of the whole island at 687,500, and that of the government-controlled area at 562,700. It was estimated that the island's population consisted of 550,400 (80.1 percent) Greek Cypriots (including 6,300 Armenians and Maronites), 128,200 (18.6 percent) Turkish Cypriots, and 8,900 (1.3 percent) who belonged to other groups (mainly British). Cypriot population estimates were often controversial, because they could have significant bearing on political settlements. Thus, population figures from the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" differed markedly from those of the Republic of Cyprus.

Birth Rates

At the end of the 1980s, the Republic of Cyprus had a fertility rate (births per woman) of 2.4, the highest in Western Europe. But this spurt in births was a new development, and it was uncertain how long it would continue. In the troubled 1970s, the reverse had been the case. Substantial migration and a decline in the fertility rate resulted in a negative growth rate of -0.9 percent in the years 1973-76. In the period 1976-82, while the economy was being restructured, population growth gradually reached an average rate of 0.8 percent, and in 1984 peaked at 1.4 percent. In the second half of the 1980s, the growth rate remained above 1 percent.

The long-term decline in the fertility rate was first noted after World War II, when the crude birth rate dropped from 32 per thousand in 1946 to an average of 25 per thousand during the 1950s. The main contributing factor in this remarkable fall in fertility was the rapid postwar economic development. This downward trend continued in the following decades, and a rate of 18 per thousand was recorded in the first part of the 1970s. After a further decline to 16 per thousand in the years after the 1974 invasion, the Greek Cypriot birth rate increased to a rate of 20 to 21 per thousand during the period 1980-86, and then continued its decline, reaching 19.2 per thousand in 1985-88.

This change in the reproductive behavior of the Greek Cypriot population was generally attributed to improvement of the standard of living, expansion of education to all sections of the population, and the consequent wider participation by women in the work force. In addition, there was the traditional Cypriot concern to provide a better future for offspring, which, in a modern social context, entailed increased expenditure for education and a striving to amass a larger material inheritance. As a result, the average family size has declined, from 3.97 persons in 1946 to 3.51 in 1982.

A final cause of declining birth rates is the disappearance in Cyprus of the rural-urban dichotomy, in which higher birth rates are registered in the countryside. The postwar period saw an increasing movement of people to the towns, on either a daily or a permanent basis. This fact, together with the compactness of the island, has resulted in "the near fusion of urban and rural life," in the words of L. W. St. John Jones, a student of Cypriot demography. The rapid and effective dissemination of typical urban attitudes contributed to a rural fertility rate not much higher than the urban one. Contraceptives were easily available at modest cost all over the island; abortions, widely carried out in private clinics, were seen not as matters of moral or religious controversy, but simply as another means of family planning, albeit a drastic one.


Emigration of Cypriots abroad has often been on a large enough scale to affect population growth. As a demographic phenomenon, it has been viewed as an extension of rural to urban movement. At times when a future in the towns was unpromising for those intent on escaping rural poverty, there was the additional safety value of emigration. Cypriots frequently availed themselves of this opportunity instead of living in crowded slums in their country's towns, and their relatively small numbers meant that recipient countries could easily absorb them. Although there was emigration as early as the 1930s, there is no available data before 1955.

The periods of greatest emigration were 1955-59, the 1960s, and 1974-79, times of political instability and socioeconomic insecurity when future prospects appeared bleak and unpromising. Between 1955 and 1959, the period of anticolonial struggle, 29,000 Cypriots, 5 percent of the population, left the island. In the 1960s, there were periods of economic recession and intercommunal strife, and net emigration has been estimated at about 50,000, or 8.5 percent of the island's 1970 population. Most of these emigrants were young males from rural areas and usually unemployed. Some five percent were factory workers and only 5 percent were university graduates. Britain headed the list of destinations, taking more than 75 percent of the emigrants in 1953-73; another 8 to 10 percent went to Australia, and about 5 percent to North America.

During the early 1970s, economic development, social progress, and relative political stability contributed to a slackening of emigration. At the same time, there was immigration, so that the net immigration was 3,200 in 1970-73. This trend ended with the 1974 invasion. During the 1974-79 period, 51,500 persons left as emigrants, and another 15,000 became temporary workers abroad. The new wave of emigrants had Australia as the most common destination (35 percent), followed by North America, Greece, and Britain. Many professionals and technical workers emigrated, and for the first time more women than men left. By the early 1980s, the government had rebuilt the economy, and the 30 percent unemployment rate of 1974 was replaced by a labor shortage. As a result, only about 2,000 Cypriots emigrated during the years 1980-86, while 2,850 returned to the island.

Although emigration slowed to a trickle during the 1980s, so many Cypriots had left the island in preceding decades that in the late 1980s an estimated 300,000 Cypriots (a number equivalent to 60 percent of the population of the Republic of Cyprus) resided in seven foreign countries.

Internal Migration

Major demographic changes could also be seen in the distribution of the population between urban and rural areas in the past fifty years. From 1881 to 1911 there was almost no internal migration, and the rural population constituted 81 percent of the total. The first change was noted in the 1931 census, when 22 percent of the population was classified as town dwellers. In the following decades, especially in the period 1946-60, the urban proportion grew increasingly rapidly; the urban population increased by 78 percent in that period, while that of rural areas grew by only 10 percent. Some 36 percent of the island's population was concentrated in towns in 1960. The urban share increased to 42 percent by 1973. In this same period, the rural population actually declined by 0.7 percent.

Following the displacement of one-third of the population in 1974, the urban population in the government-controlled area rose to 52 percent in 1976 and 63.5 percent in 1983. Urbanization did not abate in the following years, for in 1986 fully 64 percent of the population living in government-controlled areas of Cyprus was urban-based. According to the republic's 1988 Demographic Report for those areas controlled by the government, 363,000 persons lived in urban areas and 199,300 in rural areas. Such a phenomenal change in the island's demographic composition could not fail to have significant repercussions in all areas of life.

The Nicosia district, historically the largest of the island's six districts, continued to expand at a faster rate than the other districts. In 1881 its population constituted 30 percent of the total; in 1973, it constituted 37 percent, and in 1986, it was up to 42 percent. In the late 1980s, its population was estimated at 234,000, despite the fact that a large part of Nicosia is in the occupied north; Limassol, the second largest district, had 91,500; Paphos, 49,500; and Famagusta, most of which is under Turkish occupation, 29,100.

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Cyprus.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress