Census shows big changes

  • 2002-07-04
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis, VILNIUS
Lithuania has undergone a major social transformation between 1989 when the last census was conducted and 2001 when the most recent one was carried out. Above all, the latest census highlights a disturbing 5 percent population decline although this is less than in Latvia or Estonia.

Lithuania's population now stands at 3.48 million people, while Latvia's population is 2.38 million, an 11 percent drop since 1989 according to a census published there last year. Estonia's population has dropped 12 percent to 1.37 million according to a census also published last year.

Lithuania' statistics department was a little short on explanations for the drop: "It shows where it's better to live ... that Lithuania is a rather good place to live," said the department's director general, Algirdas Semeta.

Some 200,000 people have left Lithuania to seek their fortunes in the United States and the European Union during the last 10 years although not all of them permanently.

The large cities have experienced the biggest population drops, intensified by city dwellers moving to the countryside after reclaiming land which the Soviet state nationalized.

The number of Vilnius residents has fallen by 6 percent since 1999, Kaunas residents by 9 percent and Klaipeda residents by 5 percent. Vilnius now has 542,300 residents.

In the same period the populations of Estonia's and Latvia's capitals have each fallen by 16 percent. There are 400,400 residents in Tallinn and 764,300 residents in Riga.

The average age of this ageing population has risen from 34.9 years in 1989 to 37 years with women outnumbering men, especially among older age groups. Women now make up 53.2 percent of the population and men 46.8 percent. For every 100-year-old man there are now three 100-year-old women.

This was the first census since 1923 to ask questions about religion and confirmed the strength of religious and particularly Catholic belief in Lithuania. Only 9.4 percent of the population declined to identify themselves with a particular religious faith, and some 79 percent said they considered themselves Catholics.

Russia Orthodox amounted to 4.1 percent, Old Believers (a centuries-old church of renegades from Orthodoxy) numbered 0.8 percent, Lutherans 0.6 percent, Karaites (a group of Turkic origin practicing a faith related to Judaism) 0.3 percent, Calvinists 0.2 percent and Muslims 0.1 percent.

The census also confirmed Lithuania's shifting ethnic make-up.

Russian Lithuanians (6.3 percent of the population) are no longer the second largest ethnic group but the third largest, having been supplanted by Polish Lithuanians, who amount to 6.7 percent. Ethnic Lithuanians now constitute 83.5 percent, a 3.9 percentage rise since 1989, while the Russian and Polish populations have decreased by 2.7 percent and 0.3 points respectively. The decrease in Russians is primarily due to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Lithuania in the early 1990s and repatriation of Russian nationals to their home country.

Other ethnic groups present in Lithuania are Belarusians (1.2 percent), Ukrainians (0.7 percent) and people of German, Jewish, Tartar and Latvian origin who each number less than 0.1 percent.

In contrast to Latvia and Estonia which both have large populations of resident non-citizens 99 percent of Lithuania's population are citizens.