Latvia's population decreases

  • 2000-11-16
  • Antra Linarte
RIGA - Latvia had a population of about 2.37 million this March, about 291,000 less than in 1989, according to census results released by the central statistics office last week.

The 10th population census in Latvia was conducted between March 31 and April 29 this year and covered 95 percent of Latvia's residents. The results were released on Nov. 7.

Estimated results show that the number of residents in Latvia's cities and towns has decreased 13.5 percent, while the drop in rural areas has been about 5.1 percent. The biggest drop was in the southern town of Liepaja at 22 percent, followed by Riga (16 percent) and Jelgava (15 percent).

"The decrease in population can be explained by the big emigration wave at the beginning of the 90s and low birth rates" said Uldis Usackis, a representative of the central statistics office.

Compiled data shows that 175,000 people have left the country in the last 9 years, about 80 percent of whom went East while 20 percent went West.

There are more women than men in Latvia as the number of women on March 31 was more than 1.28 million while the number of men was just under 1.10 million.

"Compared to the previous census, the population of Latvia is getting older every year. Since 1987, more people have died than have been born," said Usackis.

According to this year's census about half a million or 21 percent of the population were older than 60. About 424,000 or 17.9 percent were younger than 14 and 1.44 million people (61 percent) were between the ages of 15 and 59.

The proportion of Latvian residents has increased to 57.6 percent from 52 percent in 1989, whereas the proportion of Russians has decreased from 34 percent to 29.6 percent.

"More and more people from ethnically mixed families prefer to choose Latvian as their nationality," said Usackis.

Surprisingly, 62 percent of the population say that Latvian is their native language, which is a larger percentage than the number of native Latvians. The same seems to be true for figures of Russian speakers. A considerable number of residents, 36.1 percent, say Russian is their native language.

The data also shows that many of Latvia's residents know, apart from their native languages, other languages. About 335,000 or 15 percent of residents above the age of 7 say they can speak English; 176,000 or 7.9 percent say German while 9,000 or 0.4 percent say French.

As expected, the number of people with a higher education is larger in urban than rural areas. Compared to the previous census the number of people with a higher education has increased 2 percent to 12.1 percent of the population. But the proportion of residents with only a secondary education has decreased by 0.5 percent to 27 percent of all residents. Slightly more than 23 percent of the population have only an elementary-school education.

Of all Latvia's residents, 0.9 percent have never attended school, while 0.3 percent or 5,600 people cannot read or write.

"This figure is standard because most of these people have disabilities of some kind," Usackis explained.