Demographic Development

Austria Table of Contents

Between 1900 and 1991, the country's population grew from 6,004,000 to 7,795,800. War deaths and birth deficits during each of the world wars and the consequences of the Great Depression profoundly influenced the development of Austria's population. Approximately 190,000 men were killed in action in World War I. Increased mortality among the civilian population as a result of the hardships of war and the immediate postwar period and extremely low birth rates resulted in a population decrease of 100,000 between the censuses of 1910 and 1923. Postwar immigration of German-speaking and Jewish populations from the successor states of Austria-Hungary to the Republic of Austria and emigration from Austria after the war basically offset each other. Economic and political crises in the 1930s caused 72,000 Austrians to emigrate to non-European countries. The largest contingent of emigrants, 37,000, were from the province of Burgenland and went primarily to the United States, mainly for economic reasons.

After Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938, an estimated 130,000 Austrians, the great majority of whom had Jewish origins, emigrated from Austria. More than 65,000 Austrian Jews died in the concentration camps and prisons of the Third Reich; 35,000 non-Jewish Austrians shared a similar fate or were executed after trials. An estimated 250,000 Austrians were killed in action during World War II; 25,000 civilians were killed as a result of bombing or military action in Austria. Some of these losses were offset by Nazi population policies that promoted motherhood and large families for racial reasons.

After the war, Austria became a destination for ethnic Germans, who fled from or were driven out of their homes in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Other refugees and "displaced persons," who were either uprooted by hostilities or victims of the expulsions sanctioned by the Allies and carried out by East European governments immediately after the war, also came to Austria. Between 1945 and 1950, about 400,000 immigrants- -ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and other non-German speaking refugees--settled in Austria and eventually became Austrian citizens.

The increase of birth rates in Austria during the 1950s corresponded with the trends in most other West European countries. Between 1950 and 1992, the infant mortality rate in Austria dropped from over 61.3 per 1,000 live births to 7.5 per 1,000, an indication of improvements Austrian health authorities had made in prenatal and postnatal care. During the 1960s, Austria experienced an unprecedented population growth related to an increase of births over deaths and a large influx of foreign workers. After the mid-1960s, however, there was a substantial and continuous drop in the fertility and birth rates in Austria, generally referred to as the "pill drop-off." In 1974 this trend was further influenced by the legalization of abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. Since the mid-1970s, Austria--after Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)--has had the third lowest fertility rate in the world: 1.44 children per woman in 1990, a rate substantially lower than the replacement rate of 2.09.

In the early 1980s, some demographers predicted that the population of Austria would decline from 7.5 million to its 1965 level of 7.25 million by 2010. This scenario was substantially revised when in the mid-1980s Austria's population experienced a spurt of dramatic growth. Projections in 1990 anticipated a net growth of Austria's population by 500,000 to 8 million by 2010. An increase in immigration and the higher fertility rate of foreign workers accounted for the greatest part of Austria's net population growth in the early 1990s.

Within Austria there are substantial variations in regional patterns of population growth among the indigenous population, in contrast to the immigrant or foreign population. After World War II, Austria's eastern provinces--Lower Austria, Vienna, and Burgenland--had lower rates of fertility than the other provinces in the country. Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, there was a clear "east-west watershed" in population growth. The west had higher rates of fertility, while the east's lower rates of fertility led to a stagnating or declining population. The economic and social reasons for these patterns of development were complex and included the Soviet occupation of eastern Austria from 1945 to 1955 and the depopulation of regions along the Iron Curtain, the traditionally weak economic infrastructure of predominantly rural areas in eastern and southeastern Austria, and the conservatism and deeply rooted Roman Catholicism of western Austria.

In 1970 the average life expectancy was seventy years (sixty for males and seventy-three for females). By 1990 the average life expectancy was almost seventy-six years (seventy-two for males and seventy-nine for females). The increasing life expectancy and the fall in the number of births have meant that Austria's population is aging. One of the major concerns under these circumstances is the burden placed on the Austrian social security system: to what extent will a constant, or shrinking, labor force be able to maintain an increasing number of pensioners?

The overall decline of fertility among Austria's indigenous population is similar to developments in other advanced industrial nations in Europe. The decline is caused by a complex set of factors, including the increased use of contraception and abortion, and the increased employment of women outside the home, and changing values and attitudes toward marriage, family, and childbearing.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress