Out of Croatia's 21 countries only City of Zagreb and Istria have recorded population increase over the last decade. In the rest of the country, population shrank by more than 200,000, or about 5 percent of the country's entire population, Vecernji List daily reported on Wednesday.
For comparison, Vecernji warned its readers that the population loss equals Croatia’s second city of Split or the entirety of Istria County.
However, even in Istria and Zagreb the increase was modest – Istria gained merely 1,000 more people compared to ten years ago, while the City of Zagreb – which covers the city and its metro area – grew by 17,000 and now has a total population of 807,000. Zagreb’s population had first exceeded 800,000 in 2016.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sisak-Moslavina County which was hit by a massive earthquake recently had lost 27,000 people, Osijek-Baranja County which includes the nation’s fourth city Osijek lost some 33,000 people, Primorje-Gorski Kotar County which includes the country’s third city Rijeka shrank by 12,000 people, while the southernmost Dubrovnik-Neretva County lost some 900 people over the last ten years.
The shrinking of Croatia’s population is a major issue often talked about in the local media, and is believed to be caused by a combination of low birth rate and high emigration levels – with both factors exacerbated in recent years by the overall aging of the population on the one hand and an exodus of working-age population following Croatia’s 2013 accession to the European Union.
Triggered by the global financial crisis, Croatia had also experienced one of the world’s longest recessions which lasted from about 2008 to 2014.
“The demographic drain in rural areas and smaller towns had until recently created an army of unemployed people… The long-lasting economic crisis and unemployment had created a perception that there is an abundance of human resources. For decades high unemployment rates had created a large reserve of labor, which is what led to relatively low wages, notably in lower-paying jobs. That reserve was exhausted over a period of just a few years because the number of working-age people decreased, partly due to emigration,” demographers Andjelko Akrap and Kresimir Ivanda said in the report originally made for the national chamber of commerce HGK and published by Vecernji List.
If the current demographic trends continue, experts project that by 2051 the number of people aged 15-64 would drop by more than a million, the number of young people aged 0-14 would drop by around 273,000, while the number of people over 65 would increase by around 185,000, seriously hampering the country’s economic development.