Population statistics at regional level

Data extracted in March 2020.

Planned article update: September 2021.


The Spanish region of Galicia recorded the highest share of live births among women aged 40 years or more (12.9 %) across the EU in 2018.

As of 1 January 2019, Evrytania (Greece) had the highest median age in the EU (55.5 years). 8 of the 10 highest median ages recorded among NUTS level 3 regions across the EU were located in Germany.

Source: Eurostat

There are considerable differences in regional demographic structures and developments across the European Union (EU), including:

  • dynamic metropolises which are often characterised by relatively youthful populations, large numbers of people living alone, high costs of living and buoyant labour markets;
  • towns and cities in former industrial heartlands that have been left behind economically, characterised by relatively high levels of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion;
  • commuter belts/suburban areas which are often inhabited by families;
  • coastal and countryside locations that may be viewed as retirement locations for relatively affluent pensioners;
  • other rural and remote regions which may exhibit declining population numbers and a relatively elderly population structure, while being characterised by narrow labour market opportunities and poor access to a wide range of services.
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Regional populations

On 1 January 2019 there were just under 447 million persons living in the EU-27. The distribution of the EU’s population between and within the individual EU Member States is far from uniform. Most people in the EU live in relatively densely-populated cities, towns and suburbs, while the vast majority of the EU’s land area is more sparsely-populated. There are 240 NUTS level 2 regions and 1 169 NUTS level 3 regions across the EU from which a detailed typology for analysing demographic developments can be established. Note that some of the differences covered by this article reflect the (artificial) administrative boundaries that are used to delineate each region.

As of 1 January 2019, there were 51 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU that had in excess of 2.5 million people (as shown by the largest circles in Map 1). This information relates to the ‘usual resident population’ (in other words, those people living in each region for at least the last 12 months). The list of most populous regions included the capital regions of Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal. The highest population counts were recorded in the French capital region of Île-de-France (12.2 million), the northern Italian region of Lombardia (10.1 million) and the southern Spanish region of Andalucía (8.4 million).

Regions with fewer than 500 000 people as of 1 January 2019 (shown by the smallest circles in Map 1) were often characterised as rural, remote or peripheral regions. The least populous NUTS level 2 regions with less than 250 000 persons included the two Spanish Ciudades Autónomas de Ceuta y Melilla, the mountainous Italian region of Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste, and four island regions — Ionia Nisia and Voreio Aigaio (both Greece), Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal) and Åland (Finland); the latter had the lowest population count (just under 30 000 persons).

Map 1: Population, 1 January 2019
(1 000 persons, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_gind3) and (demo_gind)

Population density

Population density provides an average measure for the number of persons living per square kilometre (km²) of land area. Regional population density is based on the assumption of uniform density over the whole of a territory. However, most regions are characterised by a broad range of different land uses beyond residential developments (for example, agriculture, forests, factories, offices and retail space, transport infrastructure, unused and abandoned areas). Therefore, even within individual regions there can be wide-ranging differences in population density. For example, in the Belgian capital region — Arr. de Bruxelles-Capitale/Arr. van Brussel-Hoofdstad — people living in the affluent, suburban areas located to the south-east of the city centre had considerably more space, on average, than those people living in the more densely-populated neighbourhoods to the north of the city centre.

In 2018, the population density of the EU-27 was 108.8 persons per km². Quite low levels of population density across many of the EU’s regions were interspersed by more densely-populated pockets of people living in regions concentrated around cities and larger towns with their suburbs. As of 1 January 2019, the 50 most populous NUTS level 3 regions accounted for 22.3 % of the EU-27’s total population, whereas their combined share of the EU-27’s total land area was just 5.8 %.

Space is at a premium in the French capital of Paris …

The highest level of population density in the EU was recorded in the French capital region of Paris, where there were, on average, more than 21 000 persons per km² in 2018. As noted above, the administrative boundaries used to delineate each region can have a considerable influence on these results. For example, the French capital region is constrained by the périphérique and hence its area is strictly confined to centre of Paris, in contrast to most urban regions which include both a city centre and its surrounding (less densely-populated) areas.

The second highest level of population density in 2018 was recorded in the Greek capital region of Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon (10 436.3 persons per km²), followed by Hauts-de-Seine, which covers some of the inner suburbs to the west of Paris (9 371.4 persons per km²). Most of the other regions with very high levels of population density were characterised as urban regions containing some of Europe’s principal cities (including most of the capitals) or regions that were located adjacent to these (in other words, areas of suburban sprawl around some of Europe’s main cities). By contrast, the lowest level of population density among EU capital regions was recorded in Vilniaus apskritis (Lithuania), at 85.8 persons per km², which was below the average population density for the whole of the EU-27.

… in contrast to large expanses of uninhabited areas in northern Europe

At the other end of the range there remain large expanses of Europe where relatively few people are living. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Lappi — the northernmost region of Finland — which had the lowest population density in the EU, at 1.9 persons per km² in 2018. Of the nine other regions in the EU where population density was below 10.0 persons per km², two more were located in northern Finland and they were joined by three regions from northern Sweden.

Map 2: Population density, 2018
(persons per km², by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_d3dens)

Population structure

Very old people accounted for 5.8 % of the EU-27 population

The social and economic consequences associated with population ageing are likely to have profound implications both nationally and regionally, for example, impacting the capacity of governments to raise tax revenue, provide adequate pensions and healthcare services, and generally to balance their finances. Most population projections indicate that the EU’s population will continue to age as a result of persistently low fertility rates and extended longevity.

As of 1 January 2019, around one fifth (20.4 %) of the EU-27 population was aged less than 20 years, while a majority (59.4 %) of the population was of working age (defined here as people aged 20-64 years). Older people (aged 65 years or more) accounted for the remaining 20.3 % of the EU-27 population, with the share of the very old (80 years or more) standing at 5.8 %.

Figure 1 shows the 10 NUTS level 3 regions in the EU with the highest shares of young people aged less than 20 years in their total populations. These regions were principally located in France (two regions to the north of the capital and three régions ultrapériphériques) and Ireland; this pattern may be linked, at least in part, to relatively high fertility rates in both of these EU Member States. On 1 January 2019, the French island region of Mayotte was the only region in the EU to report that more than half (53.8 %) of its population was aged less than 20 years.

Many rural regions in southern Europe were characterised by high shares of very old people

At the other end of the age spectrum, the regions characterised by a relatively high share of very old people (aged 80 years or more) were principally located in southern Europe (see the final part of Figure 1). This pattern of population ageing in rural and often remote regions is likely to have been advanced by younger people choosing to leave the region in which they grew up so they could continue their studies or look for alternative and perhaps more varied work. It was particularly apparent across sparsely-populated regions in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

On 1 January 2019, the mountainous, central Greek region of Evrytania had the highest share of very old people in the EU; people aged 80 years or more accounted for 16.1 % of population (nearly three times as high as the EU-27 average). Two regions in north-western Spain recorded the second and third highest shares of very old people — among NUTS level 3 regions — namely, Zamora (12.5 % of the total population) and Ourense (12.1 %).

Figure 1: Population structure by broad age group, 1 January 2019
(%, share of total population, by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_pjangrp3)

The median age is another indicator which may be used to analyse population ageing. It gives an idea of the rapid pace at which the EU’s population structure is changing. The median age of the EU-27 population was 38.4 years in 2001 (the first reference year for which information is available); over a period of 18 years, the median age increased by more than five years, to stand at 43.7 years by 2019.

Some of the highest median ages in the EU were recorded in eastern Germany …

As noted above, the challenges posed by an ageing society may be intensified in regions from which younger (and working-age) people relocate. In 2019, 8 out of the 10 regions in the EU with the highest median ages were situated in eastern Germany, spread across the Länder of Thüringen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Brandenburg. These regions were characterised by relatively low levels of disposable income and relatively high unemployment rates (when compared with other regions in Germany). It is therefore likely that their high median ages reflect, at least to some degree, younger people having moved — for example to the larger cities of eastern Germany, other parts of Germany, or further afield (for example, into Austria) — in search of higher wages and/or greater job opportunities.

In 2019, the Greek region of Evrytania had the highest median age among NUTS level 3 regions in the EU, at 55.5 years. It was followed by Suhl, Kreisfreie Stadt in Thüringen (Germany) where the median age was 54.7 years, while there were three regions that each had a median age of 53.8 years — Arr. Veurne in north-western Belgium (near to the coast and the French border), Spree-Neiße in Brandenburg (Germany) and Greiz (also in Thüringen).

… while some of the lowest median ages were recorded in and around capital cities

Capital regions often exert a considerable pull on both international and intra-regional migrants as they usually offer a wide range of educational and employment opportunities. This can lead to population structures evolving with younger people accounting for a growing share of the total population in capital cities and their surrounding suburban areas; over time, this pattern may self-propagate, insofar as populations with younger age structures are more likely to have relatively high birth rates.

In 2019, the 10 NUTS level 3 regions in the EU with the lowest median ages included Byen København (the Danish capital region; median age of 33.8 years), Seine-Saint-Denis and Val d’Oise (both situated close to the French capital region; 34.9 years and 36.5 years) and Dublin (the Irish capital region; 36.3 years). However, the lowest median ages in the EU were recorded in two of the French régions ultrapériphériques, namely, Mayotte (17.7 years) and Guyane (25.9 years).

Figure 2: Median age of population, 2019
(years, by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_pjanind3) and (demo_pjanind)


In 2018, there were 4.25 million live births across the EU-27, which equated to a crude birth rate of 9.5 births per 1 000 persons. EU regions with relatively high levels of fertility are protected, to some degree, from the impact of population ageing. In 2018, three out of the four highest crude birth rates — among NUTS level 2 regions — were registered in the régions ultrapériphériques of France: Mayotte (36.2 births per 1 000 persons), Guyane (28.6) and La Réunion (15.6). There were also six capital regions present at the top of this ranking, with the Belgian capital of Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest recording the highest crude birth rate among these (14.4 births per 1 000 persons); the other capital regions included those of France, Slovakia, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark (see Figure 3).

The lowest crude birth rates were spread across a number of Italian and Spanish regions (outside of their major conurbations). In 2018, Principado de Asturias (north-west Spain) had the lowest rate in the EU, at 5.6 births per 1 000 persons. It was joined by the two other regions that compose the north-west of Spain — Galicia and Cantabria — as well as Castilla y León. Among the Italian regions, Sardegna had the lowest crude birth rate (5.7 births per 1 000 persons in 2018). In contrast to the situation in Spain, the Italian regions with very low crude birth rates were widely dispersed across the territory, from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the north-east down to Basilicata in the south.

Figure 3: Crude birth rate, 2018
(per 1 000 persons, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_gind3) and (demo_gind)

In Ireland, Spain and Italy, a relatively high share of mothers gave birth age 40 years or older

In 2018, the median age of women at childbirth in the EU-27 was 30.8 years. One factor which may explain the relatively low levels of fertility in the EU is the growing proportion of women giving birth later in life. This may be linked, among others, to: higher female participation rates in further education and/or more women choosing to establish a career before starting a family; lower levels of job security (for example, in the gig economy); the increasing cost of raising children and housing; and a decline in the number of traditional family units (less people getting married and more people getting divorced).

Map 3 shows the proportion of live births born to mothers aged 40 years or more; in 2018, approximately 1 in 20 births across the EU-27 were to women from this age group. The regions where at least 7.5 % of all births were accounted for by women aged 40 years or more are shown by the darkest shade in the map. These were concentrated over much of Ireland, Spain and Italy, while high shares were also recorded, among others, in the capital regions of Greece, Hungary and Portugal.

Map 3: Live births to mothers aged ≥ 40 years, 2018
(%, share of total number of live births, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_fagec)

In 2018, the Spanish region of Galicia had the highest proportion of live births among mothers aged 40 years or more; its share of 12.9 % was approximately 2.5 times as high as the EU-27 average (5.2 %). At the other end of the spectrum, just 2.2 % of all live births in Východné Slovensko (Slovakia) were born to mothers aged 40 years or more.

Population change

Historically, population growth in the EU has been driven largely by natural population change (the total number of births minus the total number of deaths). Following the end of the post-war baby-boom, the rate of natural population growth started to slow from the 1970s onwards. Later, successive enlargements of the EU took place alongside the development of the European single market, with net migration (the difference between the number of immigrants and emigrants) gaining prominence in terms of its contribution to overall population change. Note: Eurostat produces net migration figures by taking the difference between total population change and natural population change; this concept is referred to as net migration plus (statistical) adjustment.

Map 4 presents the crude rate of total population change. Between 1 January 2018 and 1 January 2019, the EU-27’s population rose by 726 000 persons, equivalent to a growth rate of 1.6 per 1 000 persons. The increase in EU-27 population could be wholly attributed to net migration plus adjustment (up 1.2 million persons), as the number of deaths outpaced the number of births by almost 450 000 persons.

At a regional level, changes in the total population result not just from migratory flows to and from other countries but also from flows of people within the national territory (moving from one region to another). Indeed, such intra-regional migration generally accounts for a larger share of the net change in population numbers than flows from other countries. In recent years, some of the main developments for regional demography include:

  • a capital city effect — populations in and around many capital cities continue to expand exerting a ‘pull effect’ on both national and international migrants;
  • an urban-rural split — with the majority of urban regions continuing to report population growth, while the number of people resident in many peripheral, rural and post-industrial regions was in decline;
  • regional divergences within individual EU Member States — these may impact on regional competitiveness and cohesion, for example, differences between the eastern and western regions of Germany, or between the northern and southern regions of Belgium and Italy.
Map 4: Crude rate of total population change, 2018
(per 1 000 persons, by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_gind3) and (demo_gind)

The highest rates of population change were in Greek islands impacted by the refugee crisis

During 2018, there was a relatively even split between the number of NUTS level 3 regions that reported an increase in their total population (609) and the number of regions that recorded a fall (556); there were four regions where there was no change in the level of population. The highest crude rates of total population change were recorded in the Greek island regions of Lesvos, Limnos and Ikaria, Samos (both of which are situated within close proximity of Turkey). There were a number of other island regions that featured among the EU regions with the highest rates of total population increase, including the Greek island of Chios, Malta and its neighbouring island of Gozo, Mayotte in France, and the Spanish islands of Fuerteventura (in Canarias) and Menorca (in Illes Balears).

Figure 4 also decomposes the overall change in population between natural change on one hand and net migration plus adjustment on the other. Many of the regions with the highest rates of natural population change were located in France, either close to the capital region or in the régions ultrapériphériques. The regions with high rates of net migration were often found to be the same as those that featured in the list of regions with the highest overall rates of total population change, underlining the relative importance of migratory flows to population change (during periods when births and deaths were closely matched).

Figure 4: Crude rate of population change, 2018
(per 1 000 persons, by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: Eurostat (demo_r_gind3) and (demo_gind)

Population developments in cities

In some parts of the EU — for example, much of Belgium, the Netherlands, western parts of Germany and northern Italy — the spatial distribution of cities follows a pattern of close proximity. By contrast, the Nordic Member States, France and the interior of Spain and Portugal are characterised by a more sparse distribution of cities over a much greater area.

On average, older people tend to make up a relatively small share of people living in cities

The old-age dependency ratio — defined here as the number of older people (aged 65 years or more) compared with the number of working-age people (aged 20-64 years) — stood at 33.6 % for the EU-27 in 2018. As such, there were approximately three people of working-age for every older person in the EU. Map 5 shows that there were almost twice as many cities (476) that had an old-age dependency ratio that was below the EU-27 average, as there were cities with a ratio above the average (261 cities).

Map 5: Old-age dependency ratio, selected cities, 2018
Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopstr), (urbcpop1) and (demo_pjanind)

As noted above, capital cities, other major conurbations and their surrounding areas tend to attract relatively high numbers of young migrants. In 2018, the lowest old-age dependency ratios in the EU were recorded in Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Valdemoro (both close to Madrid, Spain) and Galway (Ireland; 2011 data). There were a number of cities in Spain, Ireland, Cyprus, the Netherlands (2016 data), Poland (2014 data) and Romania that recorded very low old-age dependency ratios — many of these cities were part of conurbations close to some of Europe’s major cities. Several factors might underlie this pattern: young people may be unable to afford to buy or rent in city centres (especially in capitals) and instead live in the surrounding areas, while families might move to suburban areas in order to have additional (and more affordable) living space. It is also conceivable that older people are tempted to leave large cities when they retire, in order to avoid some of the perceived disadvantages of living in big cities (congestion, crime or a higher cost of living).

Almost 13 million people were living in and around the French capital

Population numbers in (and around) most of the EU’s largest cities are generally rising at a relatively rapid pace, especially for capitals. However, there are cities, such as those located in former industrial heartlands, where population numbers are in decline. Figure 5 presents information on the 20 largest functional urban areas in 2018; these data decompose population numbers between city centres and their surrounding commuter zones. The highest level of population was recorded in Paris (France; 12.8 million people; 2016 data), followed — at some distance — by Madrid (Spain; 6.8 million) and Berlin (Germany; 5.3 million). The largest functional urban areas that were not centred upon a capital city were Milano (Italy; 5.1 million), the German urban agglomeration of the Ruhrgebiet (which includes, among others, Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen and Oberhausen; also 5.1 million) and Barcelona (Spain; 5.0 million).

Figure 5: The 20 largest functional urban areas of the EU, by cities and commuting zones, 2018
(million persons)
Source: Eurostat (urb_cpop1) and (urb_lpop1)

In 2018, the commuter zones surrounding the cities of Napoli (Italy) and Bucuresti (Romania) were relatively small in size, accounting for less than 15 % of the total population in their functional urban areas. By contrast, more than half of the total population in the functional urban areas of the Ruhrgebiet (Germany), Katowice (Poland; 2014 data), Stuttgart (Germany), Frankfurt am Main (Germany), Amsterdam (the Netherlands; 2016 data) and Bruxelles/Brussel (Belgium) was accounted for by people living in the commuter zones.

Source data for figures and maps

Data sources

Eurostat collects a wide range of regional demographic statistics: these include data on population numbers and various demographic events which influence the population’s size, structure and specific characteristics. Regional demographic statistics may be used for a wide range of planning, monitoring and evaluating actions, for example, to:

  • analyse population ageing and its effects on sustainability and welfare;
  • evaluate the economic impact of demographic change;
  • calculate per inhabitant ratios and indicators such as regional GDP per inhabitant, which may be used, for example, to allocate structural funds to economically less advantaged regions.

Eurostat’s data collection on cities is undertaken by national statistical authorities, the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and Eurostat. It provides statistics on a wide range of socioeconomic indicators that cover many aspects that relate to the quality of urban life: demography, housing, health, economic activity, the labour market, income disparities, educational qualifications, the environment, travel patterns, tourism and cultural infrastructure. The latest data collection exercise sought information from almost 1 000 different European cities (across EU Member States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey; note that there may be considerable differences in relation to the latest reference period available for each city).

Population data for European cities refer principally to (one or more) local administrative units (LAUs) where the majority of the population lives in an urban centre — information for some cities is presented together with data covering their surrounding commuting zone; together these two entities form a functional urban area. For statistical purposes:

  • a city is one or more LAUs where a majority of the population lives in an urban centre of at least 50 000 persons;
  • a commuting zone contains the surrounding travel-to-work areas of a city where at least 15 % of employed residents are working in the city;
  • a functional urban area consists of a city and its surrounding commuting zone.



Demographic developments drive a range of policy developments, in particular within the fields of employment and social policy, health, free movement, asylum and migration. Indeed, statistics on population change and the structure of populations are increasingly used to support policymaking.

The European Parliament passed a resolution on Demographic change and its consequences for the future of the EU’s cohesion policy (2013/C 153 E/02) which underlined that regional demographic developments should be statistically measured and stressed that demographic change should be considered as a cross-cutting objective in future cohesion policy. Based on Eurostat’s 2015 population projections, the Economic Policy Committee (EPC) published the 2018 Ageing Report which contains economic and budgetary projections for the EU Member States through until 2070. In April 2020, Eurostat released a new round (EUROPOP2019) of population projections covering the period from 2019 to 2100.

In May 2015, the European Commission presented a European agenda on migration outlining measures to respond to the influx of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the EU through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean. The agenda also provided a range of options for the longer-term management of migration into the EU.

The European Commission announced a new assistance instrument for emergency support in March 2016: this plan allocated some EUR 700 million of aid, over the period 2016-2018, to provide humanitarian assistance through the rapid delivery of food, shelter and healthcare. There followed a number of further initiatives during the remainder of 2016 as the migrant crisis remained high on the political agenda, among which: the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement; additional financial support to Bulgaria, Greece and Italy to help cope with specific migration challenges; further provisions for supporting Syrian refugees (those displaced within Syria and those in other host countries); additional support for the protection of unaccompanied minors; renewed efforts to help save lives at sea and to disrupt smuggler networks; as well as the creation of safe and legal routes for asylum-seekers.

In 2018, the EU approved finance to support Morocco’s border management, as the Western Mediterranean route (into Spain) had become the primary entry point for irregular crossings. More widely, the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is working to develop cooperation along the whole of the route to the Western Mediterranean, focusing on improving migration governance and management among other issues.

The latest progress report on the implementation of the European agenda on migration (COM(2019) 126 final) was released as a Communication by the European Commission in March 2019. It was followed, in October 2019 by a follow-up Communication (COM(2019) 481 final) providing an assessment of the progress made during the previous four years and the need to consolidate the marked progress achieved in the face of volatile, geopolitical developments.

On 17 June 2020, the European Commission adopted a Report on the impact of demographic change. It presented information on the drivers of long-term demographic change and its impacts. It also highlighted the links between demographic structures and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the oldest generations being particularly affected by the crisis. As Europe slowly and cautiously emerges from lockdown, it is apparent that the impact of demographic change continues to be of utmost importance at a socioeconomic level, for health and long-term care, and much more besides.


Cities and urban areas are at the heart of the EU’s cohesion policy. At least half of the resources associated with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) during the period 2014-2020 have been invested in urban areas. One of the main areas concerns integrated strategies for sustainable urban development (allocated around EUR 10 billion). Through this, around 750 cities across the EU are being empowered to implement strategies that touch upon various dimensions of urban life, including: urban renewal, education, economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection. These initiatives are intended to provide a stimulus for tackling issues such as demographic challenges, job creation, social inclusion or the impact of climate change, all of which are critical for achieving a smart, sustainable, inclusive society.

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This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook.