Lithuania Table of Contents


In 1995 Lithuania had an estimated population of 3,717,000, which was 44,000 fewer people than in 1992. Of the total, females were in the majority, as in most Central European countries and in Russia. The population group that has increased most quickly in Lithuania, as in many other relatively developed countries, consists of senior citizens and pensioners (those over age sixty) (see fig. 12). For example, pensioners grew in number from 546,000 to 906,000 between 1970 and 1991. This group grew from 17.3 percent of the population in 1980 to 19.5 percent in 1992. The zero-to-fifteen-year-old age-group, by comparison, diminished slightly from 25.2 percent in 1980 to 23.9 in 1992, not as a result of increased mortality but as a result of a continuing decline in the birth rate. The group of working-age people (aged sixteen to fifty-nine for men and fifteen to fifty-four for women) also decreased, from 57.5 percent to 56.6 percent. The birth rate decreased from 17.6 per 1,000 population in 1970 to 12.5 per 1,000 population in 1993 and 12.0 per 1,000 population in 1994. Mortality increased from 10.5 per 1,000 population in 1980 to 10.9 in 1991 and 12.8 in 1994. Life expectancy in 1993 was 63.3 years for males and 75.0 years for females, or an average of 69.1 years. This, too, was on the decline from the peak years of 1986-87, when the average was 72.5 years (67.9 years for males and 76.6 years for females). The decrease coincides with the worsening economic situation and the decline in the quality of health services during the postindependence economic transition.

The average Lithuanian family is still somewhat larger than families in the neighboring Baltic states, but it has been declining. The average family size shrank to 3.2 by 1989. People marry young, but their marriages are often quickly dissolved. The divorce rate has been increasing. In 1989, of 9.3 marriages per 1,000 population, there were 3.3 divorces. The highest divorce rate is among ethnic Russians and in ethnically mixed families. These statistics indicate the existence of social problems with which society has been ill equipped to deal. Churches are not allowed to intervene to address these problems, and the profession of social work is still virtually nonexistent. The postcommunist government must face the formidable task of developing a social work sector.

Under Soviet rule, especially in the last decade, one-half or more of the annual population increase resulted from immigration, primarily from Russia. But this situation has changed. More people emigrate to former Soviet republics than arrive from them, and more people leave for the West than come from there. In 1990 Lithuania's net migration loss to former Soviet republics was 6,345. Loss to the West includes Jewish emigration. Gains from the West include returning Americans and Canadians of Lithuanian descent.

Soviet industrialization brought about fast and sustained urban development. Annually, almost 1 percent of the rural population has moved to cities since the early 1950s. In 1939 only 23 percent of the population lived in cities; in 1992 the urban percentage was 69. Lithuania has five cities with a population of more than 100,000. The largest is the capital, Vilnius, established in 1321 (1994 population 584,000); Kaunas, the capital between the two world wars, founded in 1361 (1994 population 424,000); the port city of Klaipeda, established in 1252 (1994 population 205,000); the center of the electronics industry, Siauliai, founded in 1236 (1994 population 147,000); and the city of chemical and automobile parts industries, Panevezys, founded in 1548 (1994 population 132,000).

In 1994, according to official estimates, 81.1 percent of Lithuania's population consisted of ethnic Lithuanians. The remaining 18.9 percent was divided among Russians (8.5 percent), Poles (7.0 percent), Belarusians (1.5 percent), Ukrainians (1.0 percent), and others, including Jews, Latvians, Tatars, Gypsies, Germans, and Estonians (0.9 percent). Altogether, people of more than 100 nationalities live in Lithuania.

The proportion of the ethnic Lithuanian population--more than 90 percent of whom speak Lithuanian--stayed at 80 percent or a fraction higher until 1989, when it dropped slightly below 80 percent. The decrease resulted in fears that a pattern of decline would develop as a result of increasing Russian immigration, which might endanger the survival of Lithuania's culture and national identity as it did in Estonia and Latvia.

The Russian minority consists of old and new immigrants. Many Russians settled in Lithuania in the nineteenth century or in the early twentieth century, shortly after the Bolsheviks came to power in Moscow. Two-thirds of the Russian minority, however, are immigrants--or their descendants--of the Soviet era, many of whom regard Lithuania as their homeland. They usually live in larger cities. In Vilnius 20.2 percent of the population was Russian in 1989. The same year, in Klaipeda, 28.2 percent of the inhabitants were Russians; in Siauliai, 10.5 percent. Ignalina, where the nuclear power plant is located, had a Russian majority of 64.2 percent. Less than 10 percent of the population in Kaunas and the resort towns of Druskininkai, Palanga, or Neringa was Russian, however. These percentages most likely will decline slightly in the 1990s because some Russians, finding it difficult to accept that they live in a "foreign" country, are leaving Lithuania. The majority of Russians, however, have shown little inclination to leave; 88 percent of those polled in the fall of 1993 described relations between their group and the ethnic Lithuanian population as good, and more than 60 percent felt that economic conditions for people like themselves would be worse in Russia than in Lithuania.

Poles live primarily in the city of Vilnius (18.8 percent of Vilnius's population in 1989) and in three adjacent rural districts. In 1989 the ethnic Polish population in the Salcininkai district constituted 79.6 percent; in the rural district of Vilnius, it was 63.5 percent; and in the district of Trakai, it was 23.8 percent. Small Polish groups also live in a number of other localities. Since the late 1940s, the Polish presence in Lithuania has declined considerably. About 200,000 Poles left Lithuania for Poland in 1946, under an agreement signed between Warsaw and Vilnius. Afterward, the Polish percentage of Lithuania's population declined from 8.5 percent in 1959 to 7.0 percent in 1989, primarily as a result of the influx of Russians. The Polish population of eastern Lithuania is composed of inhabitants whose families settled there centuries ago, of immigrants who came from Poland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the region was part of Poland, and of many assimilated Lithuanians and Belarusians.

Jews began settling in Lithuania in the fourteenth century. In time, Vilnius and some other cities became centers of Jewish learning, and Vilnius was internationally known as the Jerusalem of the North. Between the two world wars, Jews developed an active educational and cultural life. The Jewish community, which did not experience large-scale persecution until World War II, was almost entirely liquidated during the Nazi occupation. In 1989 only 12,400 Jews were left in Lithuania, and emigration after independence had cut their number to an estimated 6,500 by 1994.

For centuries, Vilnius has been an ethnically diverse city. Historically, the city has served as a cultural center for Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, and Belorussians. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it also was a center of Ukrainian religious and cultural life. At the turn of the century, the largest minority ethnic group was Jewish. After World War II, the largest minority ethnic group was Polish. The population of Vilnius in 1989 was 50.5 percent Lithuanian, 20.2 percent Russian, 18.8 percent Polish, and 5.3 percent Belorussian.

 For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Lithuania.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress