Statistics Explained

Enlargement countries - population statistics

Data extracted in March 2022.

Planned article update: May 2023.


In 2021, the combined population of the candidate countries and potential candidates was equivalent to 22.7 % of the population of the EU.

Among candidate countries and potential candidates, the highest shares of young people in 2021 were in Kosovo (24.0 %) and Turkey (22.8 %), while the lowest was in Serbia (14.3 %).

In 2019, Turkey had the highest fertility rate among the candidate countries and potential candidates, at 1.88 children per woman, while North Macedonia had the lowest rate, at 1.34 children per woman. EU’s fertility rate in 2019 stood at 1.53 children per woman.

In 2021, among the candidate countries and potential candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina (8.4 per thousand inhabitants) and Serbia (8.9 per thousand inhabitants) were the only countries to record crude birth rates that were lower than in the EU (9.1 per thousand inhabitants).


Population changes, 2010-2021

This article is part of an online publication and provides information on a range of population statistics for the European Union (EU) enlargement countries, in other words the candidate countries and potential candidates. Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey currently have candidate status, while Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo* are potential candidates.

The article gives an overview of demographic developments in the candidate countries and potential candidates, presenting indicators such as the total population, crude birth and death rates, fertility rates, life expectancy and the infant mortality rate.

Full article

Population and age structure

The recommended definition of total population is the ‘usual resident population’, which represents the number of inhabitants of a given area. Eurostat uses the reference date of 1 January of the year in question. In some cases, the 31 December of the previous year is used.

The combined population of the candidate countries and potential candidates was estimated to be 101.3 million inhabitants in 2021, which was between one fifth and one quarter, 22.7 %, of the EU total (Table 1). Turkey was by far the most populous of the candidate countries and potential candidates, with 83.6 million inhabitants in 2021. Montenegro had the smallest population in this group, with somewhat over 621 thousand inhabitants.

There were 447.0 million persons resident in the EU as of 1 January 2021.

Table 1: Population, 2010-2021
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)

Population changes among the candidate countries and potential candidates followed varied patterns during the period 2010-2021 (Figure 1). The population of Turkey increased at a relatively rapid pace, growing by 15.2 % overall during this period, an annual average of 1.30 %. The number of residents in North Macedonia grew at a modest pace of 0.8 % over 2010-2021, an annual average of 0.07 %. Montenegro’s population grew even slower, at 0.3 % over 2010-2021, an annual average of 0.03 %. The population of Albania was down by 3.0 % during 2010-2021, an annual average of -0.28 %. The decline in Serbia was 6.0 % between 2010 and 2021, an annual average of -0.56 % (note that there is a break in series in 2011). Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population fell by 9.2 % during 2010-2019 (latest available data), an annual average of -1.06 %, although much of the fall occurred in the year 2016. Kosovo’s population statistics underwent a major break in the time series in 2011 as a consequence of the census in that year. From then to 2020 (latest available data), the population declined by 0.7 %, an annual average of -0.07 %.

In the EU, the population grew by 1.4 % over 2010-2021, an annual average of 0.13 %. Its growth path is very similar to North Macedonia in particular; this makes it difficult to distinguish the lines in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Population changes, 2010-2021
(Index 2010=100)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)

The working age population, defined as those aged 15-64 years, accounted for 64.5 % of the total population in Serbia in 2021, the lowest share among candidate countries and potential candidates. The highest share was 69.1 % in North Macedonia. Data is not available for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Working age people accounted for less than two thirds, 64.1 %, of the total population in the EU in 2021.

Those aged less than 15 years accounted for 14.3 % of the total population in Serbia in 2021; 16.1 % in North Macedonia, 16.5 % in Albania and 17.9 % Montenegro. The share of this age group was closer to one quarter of the total population in Turkey, at 22.8 %; and in Kosovo, at 24.0 % (2020 data). Conversely, less than one tenth of the total population in both Kosovo (2020 data) and Turkey were aged 65 years and over, while this share was 20.8 % in the EU and 21.3 % in Serbia, the latter having the highest share among the candidate countries and potential candidates.

Figure 2: Population by age class, 2021
(% of total population)
Source: Eurostat (demo_pjangroup)

Birth and death rates

The crude rate of natural increase is calculated by subtracting the crude death rate from the crude birth rate. A positive result implies that the natural rate of population change (in other words, excluding the effects of migrant flows) is positive and so the population increases. The data are illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Crude birth and death rates, 2010 and 2020
(per thousand inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)

In Kosovo, the crude birth rates substantially exceeded the crude death rate in 2019 (latest available data), so that natural population growth was at 6.9 per thousand inhabitants; in 2010, natural population growth had been 13.3 per thousand inhabitants. Turkey in 2020 saw a natural population growth of 8.0 per thousand inhabitants (nevertheless, crude death rate data corresponds to 2019 – latest available data); in 2010, the corresponding figure was 11.9. In Albania, crude birth rates were also higher than crude death in 2020 but to a lesser extent: natural population growth was at 0.2 per thousand inhabitants; a decade earlier, the rate had been 4.8 per thousand inhabitants.

In contrast, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2018) and Serbia reported crude death rates that were higher than their crude birth rates in 2020 or the last year available. This resulted therefore in a natural population decrease of -0.3 per thousand inhabitants in Montenegro in that year; a decade earlier, the natural population growth rate had been positive at 2.9 per thousand inhabitants. In North Macedonia, the natural population decrease was -3.2 per thousand inhabitants in 2020, a decade earlier, the natural population growth rate had also been positive at 2.5 per thousand inhabitants. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there was a natural population decrease of -2.4 per thousand inhabitants in 2018, the latest period for which data is available. Eight years earlier, the decline had been -0.4 per thousand inhabitants. Serbia had a natural population decline of -8.0 per thousand inhabitants in 2020; in 2010, the corresponding decline had been -4.8 per thousand inhabitants. Throughout the region, therefore, the natural rate of population change declined over the period observed. In the EU, the crude birth rate has ceased to be higher than the crude death rate since 2012. The difference between these two rates in 2020 was negative, as the birth rate per thousand inhabitants was 2.5 lower than the death rate. In 2010, the natural rate of population growth had been slightly positive, at 0.5 per thousand inhabitants.

Fertility rates

The total fertility rate is defined as the mean number of children who would be born to a woman during her lifetime, if she were to spend her childbearing years conforming to the age-specific fertility rates that have been measured in a given year. The data are illustrated by Figure 4.

Among the candidate countries and potential candidates, Turkey recorded fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1 children per woman. Turkey’s fertility rate was 2.09 children per woman in 2009 and remained in the range 2.03 - 2.17 during the period 2009-2017. The fertility rate then fell to 1.99 in 2018 and to 1.88 in 2019.

In Montenegro, fertility was 1.98 children per woman in 2009. The fertility rate then fell, at 1.70 children per woman in 2010 and 1.65 in 2011. Since then, the fertility rate has stayed in the range 1.72 - 1.79 children per woman, most recently with 1.77 recorded in 2019. In North Macedonia, the number of children per woman during the period 2009-2016 was recorded in the range 1.46 - 1.56. In 2017, fertility fell to 1.43, staying approximatively stable in 2018 and falling again to 1.34 in 2019.

Fertility in Serbia was recorded in the range 1.40 to 1.45 children per woman in the years 2009-2013. The value was slightly higher at 1.46 in each of the years from 2014 to 2016, then increased again slightly to 1.49 in both 2017 and 2018, and again to 1.52 in 2019. In Albania, fertility increased from 1.63 children per woman in 2009 to 1.73 in both 2013 and 2014. Fertility then declined each year, initially to 1.59 children per woman in 2015, to 1.48 in 2017 and to 1.37 in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. Kosovo’s very short time series reported a fertility rate of 1.66 children per women in 2016, which steadily declined to 1.55 in 2019. No data is available for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The fertility rate in the EU was relatively stable over the period 2009-2019, standing at 1.56 in 2009, and 1.53 in 2019.

Figure 4: Total fertility rate, 2009-2019
(average number of children per woman)
Source: Eurostat (demo_find)

The increasing average age of women at childbirth is a global phenomenon. The candidate countries and potential candidates are no exceptions. Between 2009 and 2019, the mean age at childbirth increased by 1.0 years in North Macedonia, 1.1 years in Albania (2009-2018), 1.3 years in Turkey, 1.5 years in Serbia and 1.6 years in Montenegro (Figure 5). No earlier data available for Kosovo. The average age at childbirth was closely clustered in 2019: all the countries that reported data were between 28.6 years in Albania and 29.9 years of age in Montenegro. Average age at childbirth in the EU was 29.9 in 2009 and 30.9 in 2019.

Figure 5: Mean age of women at childbirth, 2009 and 2019
Source: Eurostat (demo_find)

Life expectancy

Life expectancy at a certain age is the mean additional number of years that a person of that age can expect to live, if subjected throughout the rest of his or her life to the current mortality conditions. Life expectancy at birth rose rapidly over the last century in most of the world due to advances in healthcare and medicine, linked especially to reduced infant mortality, as well as rising living standards, improved lifestyles and better education.

There was an increase in life expectancy between 2009 and 2019 both for men and for women in all the candidate countries and potential candidates for which a complete time series is available. Figure 6 illustrates the data. This increase was especially marked in Turkey: men life expectancy increased from 73.3 years to 76.4 years; women from 78.8 to 81.8 over the period. The lowest increase was in Montenegro where men life expectancy increased from 72.9 to 74.0 years, while women life expectancy grew from 77.5 to 79.5 years. North Macedonia and Serbia had intermediate increases. In North Macedonia, men had a life expectancy of 72.3 years in 2009 and 74.7 years ten years later; the corresponding figures for women were 76.7 and 78.6 years. In Serbia men life expectancy increased from 71.4 to 73.4 years over the period; women life expectancy rose from 76.7 to 78.6 years. Albanian data is not available for 2009, while in 2019 men life expectancy was 77.6 years and female 80.7 years. There was insufficient data reported for Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo. For comparison, in the EU, men life expectancy was 76.4 years in 2009 and 78.5 years in 2019. Women life expectancy was 82.6 years in 2009 and 84.0 years in 2019.

Life expectancy at birth for women is higher than for men both within the EU and all of the candidate countries and potential candidates for which data are available (Figure 6). The gender gap was 5.5 years in 2019 in Montenegro, having increased from 4.6 years in 2009. This was the only country in the region to record an increase. The gender gap in 2019 was 5.4 years in Turkey, almost unchanged from 5.5 years in 2009; and 5.2 years in Serbia, also almost unchanged from the 2009 figure of 5.3 years. In North Macedonia, the gender gap in 2019 was only 3.9 years, having declined from 4.4 years in 2009. The gender gap was 3.1 years in Albania in 2019 (no data available for 2009). The EU gender gap of 5.5 years in 2019 was lower than the one in 2009, of 6.2 years.

Figure 6: Life expectancy at birth, 2009 and 2019
Source: Eurostat (demo_mlexpec)

In 2019, life expectancy for men in the candidate countries and potential candidates for which data is available ranged from a low of 73.4 years in Serbia to 77.6 years in Albania (a difference of 4.2 years), compared with 78.5 years in the EU. For women, life expectancy across the candidate countries and potential candidates was slightly more homogeneous, ranging from a low of 78.6 years in both Serbia and North Macedonia to 81.8 years in Turkey, a difference of 3.2 years; for comparison, the average in the EU was 84.0 years.

Infant mortality rates

The infant mortality rate is defined as the ratio of the number of deaths of children under one year of age to the number of live births in the reference year; the value is expressed per thousand live births.

Infant mortality rates fell in most of the candidate countries and potential candidates in recent years (Figure 7); in some, the decline was rapid. In North Macedonia, infant mortality rate was 11.7 in 2009. Regardless increases between 2012, 2013 and 2016, it declined to 5.6 in 2019. In Turkey, the decline was from 13.7 to 9.1 per thousand live births, while in Montenegro, infant mortality fell from 5.7 per thousand live births in 2009 to 2.4 in 2019, lower than in the EU. In Serbia, it fell from 7.0 to 4.8. The infant mortality rate in Kosovo declined from 9.9 per thousand live births in 2009 to 8.7 in 2019. In Albania, infant mortality stood at 10.3 per thousand live births in both 2009 and 2019, despite several increases and decreases during the period. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, data is only available for 2009, 2010 and 2012, so limiting analysis of trends over time. In the EU, infant mortality declined from 4.2 per thousand live births in 2009 to 3.4 in 2019.

Figure 7: Infant mortality rate, 2009-2019
(per thousand live births)
Source: Eurostat (demo_minfind)

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Data sources

Data for the enlargement countries are collected for a wide range of indicators each year through a questionnaire that is sent by Eurostat to candidate countries and potential candidates. A network of contacts has been established for updating these questionnaires, generally within the national statistical offices, but potentially including representatives of other data-producing organisations, for example, central banks or government ministries.

Since 2016, the candidate countries and potential candidates provide population data directly to Eurostat’s unit responsible for population and migration statistics; these data have been used in this article. This mechanism operates in the same way as Eurostat’s regular collection of population data from EU Member States and EFTA countries. These statistics are also available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website.

Eurostat provides a wide range of demographic data, including statistics on populations at national and regional level, as well as for various demographic factors influencing the size, the structure and the specific characteristics of these populations.

Population data for North Macedonia will be revised based on the 2021 census results which was released on 30 March 2022.

Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value.


Population statistics are widely used to compare statistics relating to regions or countries that are inevitably of different sizes. Population is used as the denominator to normalise these data to a per person (per capita) basis. Examples include government expenditure per person between regions; hospital beds per thousand population; school places per thousand children within a specific age range. Population statistics are used both in policy development and in discussion of its outcomes.

Population statistics are the basis for distributing seats in democratic assemblies, where these are allocated geographically.

Population statistics are also used in business decisions, both at local level and in focussing on specific age ranges.

These statistics are used to analyse population ageing and its effects on the labour force and the age dependency ratio, so informing social and employment policies.

Information concerning the current statistical legislation on population and demography statistics can be found here:

While basic principles and institutional frameworks for producing statistics are already in place, the candidate countries and potential candidates are expected to increase progressively the volume and quality of their data and to transmit these data to Eurostat in the context of the EU enlargement process. EU standards in the field of statistics require the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, impartiality, relevance, confidentiality of individual data and easy access to official statistics; they cover methodology, classifications and standards for production.

Eurostat has the responsibility to monitor that statistical production of the candidate countries and potential candidates complies with the EU acquis in the field of statistics. To do so, Eurostat supports the national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics through a range of initiatives, such as pilot surveys, training courses, traineeships, study visits, workshops and seminars, and participation in meetings within the European Statistical System (ESS). The ultimate goal is the provision of harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards.

Additional information on statistical cooperation with the enlargement countries is provided here.


* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

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