Three mainly rural regions of Croatia and Bulgaria suffered the deepest population decline across the European Union between 2015 and 2020, a compilation of data from the EU’s statistics office Eurostat shows.
This comes in the context of the long-term decline in populations across almost all of emerging Europe, caused by a combination of low birth rates and outward migration.
The rural regions with the highest rates of depopulation were the Croatian regions of Vukovarsko-srijemska supanija (-2.5% per year) and Pozesko-slavonska supanija (-2.3%), and the Bulgarian region of Vidin (also -2.3%), the report said.
Mainly rural regions accounted for 45% of the EU’s area in 2021, but were home to only 21% of the bloc’s population.
Across the EU, the population of predominantly rural regions dropped by an average of 0.1% per year, while that of predominantly urban regions rose by 0.4% per year. In intermediate regions, the population remained flat.
The majority of predominantly rural regions in the EU, 155 in total, experienced a decline in population in the period 2015-2020, while the population grew by at least 0.3% per year in 108 other predominantly rural regions.
The demographic mix also changed in rural areas, where the number of people aged 65 or older grew by 1.8% each year – higher than the 1.6% recorded in predominantly urban and in intermediate regions.
At the same time, the number of working-age people (20-64 years) in predominantly rural regions dropped by an average of 0.6% each year.
There was also a decline in the number of people aged 20 or under, by 0.7% a year.
In urban areas, the number of working age and young people increased by 0.1% and 0.3% a year respectively.
According to Eurostat, the figures suggest “that these people left predominantly rural regions to continue their education or in search for work.”