Statistics Explained

Population and population change statistics


Data extracted: 5 July 2021

Planned article update: July 2022

Highlights

On 1 January 2021, the population of the EU was estimated at 447.0 million inhabitants, 312 000 less than the previous year.

The EU population slightly decreased in 2020, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

[[File:Population and population change statistics 2021 final.xlsx]]

Population change by component (annual crude rates), EU, 1960-2020


This article gives an overview of the development of European Union (EU) population, detailing the two components of population change: natural population change and net migration plus statistical adjustment. More information on net migration is provided within an article on migration and migrant population statistics.

Full article

EU population shows a slight decrease in 2020

In 2020, the population of the European Union at 27 countries slightly decreased from 447.3 million to 447.0, interrupting a long growth led by a positive net migration. This time, the negative natural change (more deaths than births) outnumbered the positive net migration, most likely due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, in the EU, there were 534 000 more deaths than in 2019, 550 000 more than the annual average of the period 2016-2019.

Over a longer period, the population of the EU grew from 354.5 million in 1960 to 447.0 million on 1 January 2021, an increase of 92.5 million people (see Figure 1). The rate of population growth has slowed down gradually in recent decades: for example, the EU population increased, on average, by about 0.7 million persons per year during the period 2005–21, compared with an average increase of around 3.0 million persons per year during the 1960s.


Figure 1: Population, EU, 1960-2021
(at 1 January, million persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)


The natural change of the EU population was positive – although decreasing – until 2011, and then negative since 2012, with more deaths than births recorded in the EU (Figure 2). The total change after 2011 (positive, with 6.5 million more inhabitants between January 2012 and January 2021) is therefore due to net migration.


Figure 2: Births and deaths, EU, 1961-2020
(million)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)

In 2020, deaths continued to outnumber live births in the EU, resulting in the aforementioned negative natural change in the population. The total decrease which was recorded in 2020 for the EU was mostly due to the peak of deaths (+534 000 over 2019). In short, the natural change of the population (-1.1million persons) was higher than the net migration and statistical adjustment (+0.8 million), resulting in a decrease in population of -0.3 million. The net migration also decreased during 2020 compared to 2019.

Net migration in the EU increased considerably from the mid-1980s onwards and was the main determinant of population growth since the 1990s (see Figure 3). The number of live births decreased progressively between 1960 and 1995, while the number of deaths slowly increased. The gap between live births and deaths in the EU narrowed considerably from 1961 onwards, and the natural change of the population became negative in 2012, when the number of deaths passed the number of births. Since the number of deaths is expected to further increase because of the ageing population, and assuming that the fertility rate remains at a relatively low level, the negative natural change (more deaths than births) could well continue. In this case, the EU’s overall population decline or growth is likely to depend largely on the contribution made by net migration.

Figure 3: Population change by component (annual crude rates), EU, 1960-2020
(per 1 000 persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)


In 2020, responding to the demand for timely data on the health crisis, Eurostat set up a new indicator on ‘excess mortality’, which represents the percentage of additional deaths from all causes compared to the average number of deaths in the same month of the period between 2016 and 2019 (so-called “baseline”). The higher the value, the more additional deaths occurred compared to the baseline. This is based on a voluntary collection of weekly deaths data from national statistical institutes.

More detailed information on weekly deaths and excess mortality is provided within the respective Statistics explained articles.

The total number of deaths reported by the Member States in 2020 confirms the results of the weekly deaths rapid exercise. The average excess of deaths in 2020, over the average annual number calculated for the period 2016-2019, was 11.9 % for the EU as a whole.


Population change at national level

The population of individual EU Member States on 1 January 2020 ranged from 0.5 million in Malta to 83.2 million in Germany. Germany, France, and Italy together comprised almost half (47 %) of the total EU population on 1 January 2020 (see Table 1).


Table 1: Demographic balance, 2020
(thousands)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)


While the population of the EU as a whole slightly decreased during 2020, the change was not evenly distributed across the EU Member States: 18 Member States observed an increase in their respective populations, while the population fell in the remaining 9 Member States. Luxembourg, Cyprus, and Ireland recorded the highest population growth rates in 2020, with increases above 8.0 per 1 000 persons, while Italy, Romania and Poland, which are also among the ones with the highest excess mortality, recorded the highest decrease (see Table 2).


Table 2: Crude rates of population change, 2018-20
(per 1 000 persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)


Analysing the two components of population change in the national data, eight types of population change can be identified, distinguishing growth or decline and the relative weights of natural change and net migration — see Table 3 for the full typology. During 2020, the highest crude rate of natural increase of population was registered in Ireland (4.9 per 1 000 persons), followed by Cyprus (3.9) and Luxembourg (2.9). A total of 19 EU Member States had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births the most in Bulgaria (-9.5 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (-6.6), Romania (-6.2), Latvia (-5.9), Italy (-5.8) and Croatia (-5.2). In relative terms, Luxembourg (10.7 per 1 000 persons), Slovenia (8.7) and Lithuania (7.2) had the highest crude rates of net migration in 2020, while only Latvia (-1.7 per 1 000 persons), Romania (-1.2), Italy (-0.7) and Croatia (-0.2) recorded negative crude net migration rates.


Table 3: Contribution of natural change and net migration (and statistical adjustment) to population change, 2019
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind)

Among the 18 EU Member States where the population increased in 2020, 8 recorded both a natural increase and positive net migration contributing to their population growth (Ireland, France, Denmark, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden). In 10 Member States (Belgium, Czechia, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland), the positive net migration was the driver of population growth, as natural population change was negative.

Of the 9 EU Member States that reported a reduction in the level of population during 2020, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland recorded a decline in the population due to negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive. In Croatia, Italy, Latvia and Romania, the decrease in the level of population was mainly driven by negative natural change, supplemented by negative net migration.

Data sources

The demographic balance provides an overview of annual demographic developments in the EU Member States; statistics on population change are available in absolute figures and as crude rates. The “crude rate of population growth” is the ratio of total population growth during the year to the average population of the area in question that year. The value is expressed per 1 000 inhabitants (see Population glossary). Population change — or population growth — in a given year is the difference between the population size on 1 January of the given year and the corresponding level from 1 January of the previous year. It consists of two components: natural change and net migration plus statistical adjustment. “Natural population change” is the difference between the number of live births and the number of deaths. If natural change is positive, then it is often referred to as a natural increase. “Net migration” is the difference between the number of immigrants and the number of emigrants. In the context of the annual demographic balance, Eurostat produces net migration figures by taking the difference between total population change and natural change; therefore, this concept is referred to as “net migration plus statistical adjustment”.

Context

Statistics on population change and the structure of population are increasingly used to support policymaking and to provide the opportunity to monitor demographic behaviour within political, economic, social and cultural contexts. In particular, this concerns demographic developments that focus on a likely reduction in the relative importance of the working-age population and a corresponding increase in the number of older persons. These statistics may be used to support a range of different analyses, including studies relating to population ageing and its effects on the sustainability of public finance and welfare, the evaluation of fertility as a background for family policies, or the economic and social impact of demographic change.

The EU has been going through a period of demographic and societal change. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to leave a lasting impact on the way we live and work together. The outbreak came at a time when Europe had already gone through a period of profound demographic and societal change. More information on the work of the European Commission 2019-2024 to tackle the impact of demographic change in Europe can be found in the European Commission's dedicated pages.

Statistics on Demography of Europe is presented in Eurostat’s interactive publication.

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