Population Changes since Independence

Latvia Table of Contents

In 1994, according to official estimates, Latvia had a population of 2,565,854 people. This figure was smaller than for the 1989 census (2,666,567), reflecting a fundamental change in the demography of Latvia. The population in the republic decreased for the first time since 1945, except in 1949 when more than 40,000 Latvians were deported. Between January 1989 and January 1994, the total decrease was more than 100,000.

Two important factors have contributed to this change. During 1991, 1992, and 1993, the natural increase was negative; in other words, more people died than were born. The moving variable has been the number of births. In 1991 the total number born was only 34,633, which was 8.7 percent less than in the previous year and 18 percent less than in 1987. The number of deaths remained about constant. For the first time since 1946, more deaths than births occurred in 1991--by a margin of 116. This gap increased significantly in 1992, when 3,851 more deaths than births were recorded. The death rate increased from 13.5 per 1,000 in 1992 to 16.3 per 1,000 in 1994, and the birth rate fell from 12.9 per 1,000 in 1992 to 9.5 per 1,000 in 1994. The postponement by many families of procreation is not surprising in view of the economic traumas suffered by most people and the general political and economic uncertainties prevailing in the country.

An even more important factor at work in the overall decrease of population has been the net out-migration of mostly nonindigenous individuals. The principal factors affecting the direction of migration included Latvia's declaration of independence and its laws checking uncontrolled immigration into the country. Independence brought a shift in political power to the Latvian group. Many individuals who could not adjust to living in a newly "foreign" country or who did not want to accommodate the new Latvian language requirements in certain categories of employment decided to leave.

A sociological poll published in November 1992 indicated that 55 percent of non-Latvians would not move east (that is, to other parts of the former Soviet Union) even if they were offered a job and living accommodations; 19 percent expressed a willingness to do so (3 percent only temporarily); and 26 percent said they did not know whether they would move. Only about 205,000 non-Latvians out of 1.3 million living in Latvia were willing to leave permanently if offered jobs and roofs over their heads. Aside from economic considerations, this surprisingly strong attachment to Latvia by non-Latvian ethnic groups is attributable to the fact that many of them were born in Latvia and have had little if any contact with their forebears' geographical areas of origin. According to the 1989 census, of the non-Latvian ethnic groups in the country, about 66 percent of Poles, 55 percent of Russians, 53 percent of Jews, 36 percent of Lithuanians, 31 percent of Belorussians, and 19 percent of Ukrainians had been born in Latvia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress