The causes and consequences of depopulation

Wittgenstein Centre Conference 2021

Vienna, Austria, 29.11. - 01.12.2021
Online via Zoom (CET)

Although global population is still growing, an ever larger number of regions and countries are experiencing a decline in population size, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have further accelerated the process. Undoubtedly, depopulation poses many challenges from economic, social, political, and strategic perspectives. In the public and policy discourse, negative views are often emphasised but may population decline also open up opportunities?

This conference aims to bring together researchers from around the world working on population decline and its consequences from demographic, economic, sociological, political, environmental, and geographical perspectives.


Monday, 29 November 2021

Wolfgang Lutz | Wittgenstein Centre for Demogra-phy and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/OeAW, University of Vienna)

Raya Muttarak | Wittgenstein Centre for Demogra-phy and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/OeAW, University of Vienna)

Alexia Fürnkranz-Prskawetz | Wittgenstein Centre for Demogra-phy and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/OeAW, University of Vienna), TU Wien



Session Chairs: Stuart Gietel-Basten

Dubravka Šuica | Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Democracy and

Challenges associated with demographic change and population decline



Session Chairs: Zuzanna Brzozowska, Ingrid Setz


Session Chairs: Erich Striessnig, Jonas Peisker

  • Guy Abel, Roman Hoffmann, Maurizio Malpede, Raya Muttarak, Marco Percoco
    Climate change, internal migration and depopulation: evidence from global census data
    extended abstract | slides | video

  • Peter Matanle, Luis Antonio Sáez Pérez
    Depopulation and its socio-environmental outcomes: evidence from Japan, Spain and New Zealand
    slides | video

  • Lucia Tamburino
    Reconciling a positive ecological balance with human development: the role of population in low-fertility countries
    short abstract | full paper | slides | video

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Session Chairs: Michaela Potančoková, Claudia Reiter

Anne Goujon, European Commission Joint Research Centre
Diversity of ageing in the territories of the European Union: drivers and impacts
slides | video

Session Chairs: Michaela Potančoková, Claudia Reiter

  • Branislav Bleha, Ján Buček
    What factors induce differences in depopulation and ageing in the same geographical conditions - The case of
    Slovak former mining cities

    short abstract | extended abstract | slides | video

  • Federico Benassi, Annalisa Busetta, Gerardo Gallo, Manuela Stranges
    Depopulation and local heterogeneities in Italy: a spatial analysis
    slides | video

  • Apostolos G. Papadopoulos, Pavlos Baltas
    Making sense of depopulation in rural Greece: trends, processes and interpretations
    slides | video

  • Samir KC, Pawan Lamsal
    Depopulation in Nepal and its potential future implications
    slides | video


Session Chair: Ekaterina Zhelenkova


Is Spanish rural depopulation irreversible? Recent change in the post-economic crisis period

Fernando Gil-Alonso
Universitat de Barcelona
Jordi Bayona-i-Carrasco
Universitat de Barcelona and Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics
Isabel Pujadas-Rúbies
Universitat de Barcelona

Many Spanish rural municipalities (those with less than 2000 inhabitants) experienced population growth during the first decade of the 21st century, due to the massive arrival of foreign immigrants. However, the Great Recession put an end to this trend, as most villages resumed their traditional demographic decline. This paper analyses the demographic impact of the new economic growth phase –called the “post-crisis” period, lasting from 2014 to the outburst of the Covid-19 pandemic–, on Spanish rural municipalities. The results show that, during the post-crisis period, the vast majority of them continued to depopulate, while a minority gained population or showed stagnant figures. Rural demographic growth seems mainly to depend on demographic size –the smallest villages lost more population– and on the village’s geographical location: only rural municipalities located in (outer) suburbs near metropolitan or urban areas, and in pre-coastal or mountain tourist areas, gained population in the post-crisis period.

extended abstract

Depopulation of Moldova: Is it possible to stop or diminish it?

Olga Gagauz
Center for Demographic Research,
National Institute for Economic Research, Chisinau, Moldova
Tatiana Tabac
Center for Demographic Research,
National Institute for Economic Research, Chisinau, Moldova
Irina Pahomii
Center for Demographic Research,
National Institute for Economic Research, Chisinau, Moldova
PhD student, Department of Demography and Geodemography, Faculty of Science,
Charles University, Prague, Czechia

Depopulation in Moldova has become the predominant trend, which is difficult to solve, due to significant international migration. The births number decline is associated primarily with a decrease in the population, while cohort fertility rates are decreasing gradually, but did not go lower than 1,75 live birth per woman. Completed cohort fertility rate of women born in 1960 is 2,2 children per woman, those born in 1970 -1,94. High level of mortality accelerate the natural decline of the population. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, life expectancy at birth dropped up to 65,9 years for men (-0,9) and 73,9 years for women (-1,2), the negative natural population growth reached -3.8 ‰. Migration outflow determine depopulation by 90%. In the last years, the negative net migration rate vary between 8-15‰. The highest rates of negative net migration are at ages 15-29. Return migration in 45-70 age lead to ageing acceleration.


Depopulation areas in Europe in the second decade of the 21st century

Anna Majdzińska
Department of Demography, University of Lodz, Poland

Depopulation is defined as a decrease in the population living in an area represented by a negative total population change due to causes such as natural loss, migrations, or a combination of both these factors.
The analysis presented in the paper was conducted to identify areas in Europe affected by long-term depopulation. Countries and the regional level units (NUTS3) were examined over the 2011-2020 period taking account of three time intervals: 2011-2015, 2016-2020, and 2011-2020. It was assumed that countries or NUTS units with a real population loss occurring in all intervals were experiencing long-term depopulation.
The range of research methods used in the analysis included descriptive statistics, Webb’s method, and cluster analysis. They made it possible to compare the countries according to their demographic situation and to create the typology of depopulating areas, as well as investigating the age structure of populations living in the depopulating areas.
The analysis is based on Eurostat vital statistics and data characterising migratory movements in European countries and NUTS units in the period 2011-2020. The age structures of the countries’ and units’ populations were studied using data from 2011, 2015 and 2020. The data and research results are presented in tables and illustrated by means of tables, graphs, and choropleth maps.

The factors driving shrinkage within Irish Electoral Divisions

Josh O’Driscoll1,2, Frank Crowley1, Justin Doran1, David Meredith3 and Mary O’Shaughnessy2

1 Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre, Department of Economics, Cork
2Department of Food Business & Development, Cork University Business School, University College Cork
3Department of Agri-Food Business and Spatial Analysis, Teagasc, Rural Economy & Development Programme, Ashtown, Dublin 15

Regional shrinkage has gained more attention from academics and policymakers in recent
years. Most studies examining shrinkage focus on larger regional level scales, (e.g.,
NUTS2/NUTS3). There is far less research at a more granular sub-regional level. A spatially
rectified dataset was developed containing population and demographic data for 3,384
Electoral Divisions (ED) from seven Censuses of Population ranging from 1986 to 2016. The
definition of shrinkage used in this study distinguishes between EDs experiencing below or
above average population loss over the 30-year period. An empirical model is implemented,
which examines the drivers of shrinkage at ED level by controlling for factors such as the
unemployment rate, industrial share, as well as sociodemographic variables (e.g., age profiles,
percentage of population with third-level education) and locational variables, such as
population density. The results of the analysis are presented and implications regarding drivers
of regional shrinkage are considered.

extended abstract


Modeling low-fertility traps as feedback effects: Low variance in fertility and other mechanisms under multigenerational optimization

Michael Geruso
University of Texas at Austin
Nicholas Lawson
University of Quebec at Montreal
Dean Spears
University of Texas at Austin

The low-fertility trap hypothesis is one of the most important theories about depopulation. A low-fertility trap is an intergenerational stable equilibrium, where low fertility in one generation causes low fertility in the next through strong intergenerational forces. An equilibrium is a trap if such intergenerational forces overpower intragenerational determinants. We construct a model of optimizing parents who live in a succession of cohorts. As a reduced-form proxy for intergenerational forces, we model a role for dispersion within a cohort's fertility outcomes. Because fertility is bounded below at zero, as average fertility decreases, variance decreases, too. Various mechanisms may discourage outlier fertility. Yet, we find that it is difficult for such a model to generate a low-fertility trap: intergenerational forces must be quite strong, relative to other factors that influence fertility decisions. This result is consistent with the empirical fact that fertility in low-fertility populations has not settled into stationary equilibria.

full paper

The Causes and Consequences of Depopulation in Japan

Toshihiko Hara
Sapporo City University

This study focuses on Japan as a precursor case of the worldwide depopulations near future, looking for causes and consequences of the First and Second Demographic Transition (FDT/SDT) in a long-term perspective. Total population in Japan reached a peak in 2008 and began to decline. Since 2007, the natural dynamics turned negative, and population is shrinking continuously. Japan loses a million people every 5 years. The natural dynamics from 1873 to 2019 show the FDT from high fertility and mortality to low  fertility and mortality, and the SDT, where the natural dynamics turned negative (because of low fertility and aging) and  depopulation began. What Japan's demographic transition suggests is that human society, in its pursuit of affluence and freedom, has increased its longevity through the rapid development of its productive forces, while at the same time expanding its freedom to control its own fertility. And we are losing to control the balance of interests between Individuals and society.

full paper

Socio-economic consequences of population emigration from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia - current situation and perspectives

Tado Jurić
Catholic University of Croatia

Faruk Hadžić
Sarajevo School of Science and Technology

The countries of the Western Balkans, through population emigration, are losing their long- term potential for economic growth. Official data show that countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have lost 181.034 of their citizens in the period 2014 - 2019, who have received residence permits in other EU countries.
In this paper, in order to prove the hypothesis, we will analyze the level of economic activity through GDP growth during the period 2014 - 2019 in order to measure the achieved level of total product, and monitor the emigration of the population from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. We will also calculate the reduction in potential output measured through GDP as a result of labor emigration, and the negative effects on the education and social service sectors.

full paper

Contribution of COVID-19 deaths to increasing depopulation in Russia

Elena Zemlyanova
Institute for Demographic Research, Moscow, Russia
Alla Ivanova
Institute for Demographic Research, Moscow, Russia

The COVID-19 pandemics has lead to higher levels of excess mortality. Negative processes are observed all over the world.
Purpose – to estimate impact of the pandemics on components of the demographic dynamics. The authors used the Rosstat short-term data on monthly dynamics in births and deaths including deaths from COVID-19 and other causes for January-December, 2020 and January-March, 2021 for Russia as a whole and Moscow.
Results. In 2020 Moscow for the first time in the past years registered population decline, in Russia as a whole the population loss substantially increased: from -2.2‰ in 2019 to -4.8‰ in 2020. Judging by the first quarter of 2021, the problem will further worsen rather than just persist.
The source of population decline was, first of all, increase in the number of deaths, and, to a lesser extent, reduction in the number of births. In Russia as a whole the crude mortality rate increased by 19.2%, while the crude birth rate reduced by 3.2%.
Along with those who died from COVID-19 as the underlying (primary) cause, mortality from almost all causes (except neoplasms) increased, including due to those cases when COVID-19 was an accompanying disease. Such disease combinations primarily affected increase in mortality from cardio-vascular diseases including from ischaemic heart disease by 15.0%, from cerebrovascular diseases by 6.9%.
The significance of the pandemic and its impact on demographic dynamics is not limited to the current period. Since health care in the context of the pandemic was constrained for people with other diseases, it can be expected that the consequences of this will affect the scale and nature of mortality in the future.

extended abstract


Fewer, better pathways for all? Intersectional impacts of rural school consolidation in China’s minority regions

Emily Hannum
Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

Fan Wang
Department of Economics, University of Houston

Primary school consolidation is emerging as a significant policy response to changing demographics. In China, large-scale consolidation took place in the early 21st century. We analyze heterogeneous effects of consolidation on educational attainment and reported national language ability in China by exploiting variations in closure timing across villages and cohorts captured in a 2011 survey of regions with substantial minority populations. We consider heterogeneous treatment effects across groups defined at the intersections of minority status, gender, and community ethnic composition and socioeconomic status. Much more than Han youth, ethnic minority youth were negatively affected by closure, in terms of its impact on both educational attainment and written Mandarin facility. However, for both outcomes, significant penalties accruing to minority youth occurred only in the poorest villages. Penalties were generally heavier for girls, but in the most ethnically segregated minority villages, boys from minority families were  highly vulnerable to closure effects on attainment and written Mandarin facility.

full paper

Does depopulation empower marginalised workers? Evidence from Japan

Steffen Heinrich
Freie Universität Berlin

For almost 30 years average real wages have not grown in Japan, but, at the same time, rapid demographic ageing has led to increasingly severe labour shortages. Wages are now rising especially for workers who have long been associated with insecure, low-pay peripheral employment and a marginalised status with regard to their political influence: women, young and low-skilled workers. All three groups have also seen more employment opportunities and improvement to their level of social protection in recent years. To a large degree this can be traced back to political reforms, such consecutive and drastic hikes of the public minimum wage. This paper argues that these improvements do not reflect a better bargaining position of workers due to ageing, as is  commonly thought, but the fact that demographic ageing has almost eliminated the economic costs of such interventions. This, in turn, has eased the pressure to reform employment institutions more comprehensively, which remain tilted towards employment-preservation for permanent employees.
The result is an institutional set-up where permanent workers enjoy relative stability and limited political favouritism but cannot achieve wage growth, and where workers at the margins experience some economic improvements but continue to be sidelined politically.

extended abstract

The effects of poverty and violence on population growth and depopulation of municipalities in Mexico

Elder Lara-Castañeda
The College of Mexico (Centre for Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies), Mexico City, Mexico

Uneven development, poverty and violence are some of the major problems in Mexico. The effects of this phenomena on demographic dynamics present different patterns across the country that deserve to be analysed. This study estimates the effect of poverty and violence on population growth in 2,469 municipalities from 2010 to 2020. Using data of population growth, poverty and homicide rates, a multiple linear regression model is applied in each of the thirty-two states. The results show an association between poverty and/or homicide rates, and population growth in nineteen states. In cases such as Sinaloa, variations in homicide and poverty rates explained up to 60% of population growth. These effects are especially notorious in some of the states with more municipalities experiencing depopulation or negative growth rates, which shows the demographic impacts of violence and poverty in recent years. It might be suggested that effects of violence in growth, and specially depopulation might be related with migration and even forced displacement.

Fractured climate cultures in depopulated Southern Spanish communities

Pilar Morales Giner
Department of Sociology, Criminology and Law at the University of Florida

Alongside the dire effects of climate change, many rural communities in Spain are subjected to processes of depopulation,  deagrarianization, and deterritorialization. These processes have consequences that affect the socio-economic as well as the cultural status of these territories. This study analyzes the elements that construct a fractured climate culture in depopulated Southern rural areas in Spain. It draws from semi-structured interviews (N=24) with rural area inhabitants in the province of Granada, as well as content analysis of official documents, to examine responses to climate change in relation to place identities. Exploring climate change perceptions and adaptation practices, I argue that the political ecological notion of shadow landscapes help revealing conflicting place identities and social processes that create a fractured climate culture. Moreover, the findings suggest that place identities are key in understanding challenges for effective responses to climate change. In addition, this study reveals that, despite the current challenges, there are opportunities for the cultivation of climate protection practices.

Civic engagement patterns in shrinking cities: rural and urban Japan

Davide Viero
University of Duisburg-Essen

Despite their increasing popularity in different fields, theories on urban shrinkage comprising social perspectives of depopulation are still underrepresented. Because of their fast-paced social change, observing shrinking Japanese cities can provide unique insights into shifting societies’ needs and civil society adjustments to meet them. Accordingly, this research investigates how civic engagement in shrinking cities differs in urban and rural contexts, paying attention to participation tendencies and associational initiatives. Building on the community volunteerism model and the existing knowledge about urban shrinkage, data from 13 municipalities participating in the J-JIGS4-NHA survey on Japanese neighbourhood associations are analysed. The results highlight the relevance of activities supporting community welfare in rural shrinking municipalities, where household membership also rises. Differently, in urban shrinking cities, greater participation in local events and the significance of activities consolidating a spirit of belonging are distinctive. Finally, a positive correlation between depopulation and household affiliation to citizen groups emerged.

extended abstract

Session Chairs: Klaus Prettner, Miguel Sanchez-Romero

  • Brienna Perelli-Harris, Yuliya Hilevych
    Perspectives on depopulation and low fertility in eastern Ukraine: uncertainties during civil unrest
    short abstract | slides | video

  • Cynthia Buckley
    Frozen conflicts and depopulation in Eurasia: population processes in de facto states
    short abstract | slidesvideo


Session Chairs: Michael Kuhn, Miguel Sanchez-Romero

Session Chairs: Klaus Prettner, Martina Siskova

David Bloom, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Economics of depopulation


Chair: Michael Herrmann, UNFPA

  • Darrell Bricker, Global Chief Executive Officer, Ipsos Public Affairs
  • Heiner Flassbeck, German economist and public intellectual
  • Wolfgang Lutz, Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital
  • William E. Rees, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
  • Wendy Sigle, London School of Economics and Political Science



Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Session Chairs: Michael Kuhn, Alexia Fürnkranz-Prskawetz

Joshua R. Goldstein, University of California
When do populations actually start shrinking? Some formal demography of depopulation

extended abstract | Peak Population Shiny app  | slidesvideo


Session Chairs: Michael Kuhn, Ross Barker

  • Xiaorong Gu, Shu Hu
    Rural depopulation and youth development in China
  • Cecilia Reynaud, Sara Miccoli
    Depopulation and ageing population: an unsustainable relationship?
    short abstract | slides | video
  • Frank Swiaczny
    Shrinking populations - Uncertainty of population projections and policy making
    slides | video
  • Patrizio Vanella, Timon Hellwagner, Philipp Deschermeier
    Parsimonious stochastic forecasting of international and internal migration on the NUTS-3 level – An outlook of regional depopulation trends in Germany
    short abstract | extended abstract | slides | video

Chair: Stuart Gietel-Basten

Conference Organisers at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, OeAW, University of Vienna):

Ekaterina Zhelenkova, Conference Coordinator (University of Vienna)

Zuzanna Brzozowska (VID, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Stuart Gietel-Basten (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)

Michael Kuhn (IIASA)

Michaela Potančoková (IIASA)

Klaus Prettner (Vienna University of Economics and Business)



If you have any questions regarding the conference, please contact conference.vid(at)


The 2023 issue of the Vienna Yearbook of Population Research is dedicated to the topic of this conference.
Submissions welcome!



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