Analysis: Bells toll for Albania’s demographics as census results confirm corrosive effects of massive emigration

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 4, 2024 20:49

Analysis: Bells toll for Albania’s demographics as census results confirm corrosive effects of massive emigration

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  • Even-though the official figure itself is staggering there are also questions about its validity, with experts suspecting the real number of residents is even smaller.

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TIRANA, July 4, 2024 – The much anticipated and much delayed results of the 2023 Census are out in Albania, confirming a massive population decline in 12 years and a worsening of all demographic indicators. 

Albania’s population shrank by almost 14 percent, losing about 429,000 residents. The country is also aging at a rapid rate, matching the demographic profile of Western European countries, but falling far behind economically – which is a recipe for disaster, according to the experts. 

None of the 12 counties in Albania, except Tirana, have a population high enough to match the decline in number. It is effectively as if two or more counties out of 12 were erased from the country since 2011. To put it into regional perspective: if neighboring Montenegro, which has a population of 0.6 million had lost the same amount of people as Albania, its remaining population would fit in just a few villages. 

The median age last year was 42.5 years, according to the census, up by seven years compared to 2011. Census data show that one in five residents is over 65 years old, whereas this ratio was 1 in 9 in the 2011 census.

Another worrisome trend is the sharp decline in the working-age population (15-64 years old). Preliminary data from the 2023 census results indicate that the working-age population was 1,555,080 people, down from 1,903,987, a decrease of 18.3 percent compared to the 2011 census data. In addition, the working-age population on the verge of retirement (60-64 years) increased by 48.8 percent, and the age group 45-59 years saw an increase of 9.6 percent. All this is leaving some to ask: “Who is going to work in the future?”

-Concerns over validity of 2.4 million number- 

Even-though the official figure itself is staggering there are also questions about its validity, with experts suspecting the actual number of residents is even smaller.

Albania’s political opposition and its demographic experts have raised questions on the numbers published by INSTAT, arguing they overestimate the resident population to soften the political blow to the government, under whose watch Albania has lost a larger portion of the population than some countries at war.  Representatives of the political opposition have for months argued that the delays in the release of the census results made them even more suspicious.

But beyond political debate, statisticians have also found discrepancies between the official census number and statistics made available through the institutions of the Western countries, which register Albanians who move to live there for various reasons. 

-Emigration as a driver of population decline-

INSTAT and demographers both point to emigration, combined with a sharp decline in fertility, as the primary factor of the lower number of residents in Albania. 

But what is behind the persistently high emigration of Albanians?

Studies show that the factors behind the massive and continued emigration are economic, political and social. They include a loss of hope as well poor quality of basic state services: health, education and justice. 

Lack of fair competition in practically all fields: the economy, politics and academia is effectively fueling a departure of the people that the country can least afford to lose, experts argue.  

Unfortunately there appear to be no direct efforts from the Socialist government, now in power for nearly 11 years, to address the issue. 

-Without changes, decline will continue-

And with no action, studies show emigration will continue.

A recent study by the Albanian Institute for International Studies published last year, for example, showed that about 13 percent of Albania’s resident working-age population is likely going to leave the country in the next year unless immediate measures are taken to increase local incomes and lower the cost of living.

The report, based on an April 2023 national survey as well as an expert analysis, notes that a considerable part of the country’s young and working-age resident population continues to have a desire to leave the country in pursuit of better opportunities abroad, with a steady stream of people making firm plans and preparations to leave the country either temporarily or permanently.

The survey also found that the desire to leave the country remains very high, with more than two in three working age residents of Albania saying they would consider leaving the country if given the chance to do so. Another half say they could see themselves out of the country five years from now, with 13 percent having concrete plans to leave

Looking back at the last census showing population growth, in 1989, Albania lost a quarter of its population. Considering the children that many Albanians have had abroad since the fall of communism, of 4.5 million Albanian citizens today, 2.1 million now live outside Albania.

With the government officially having no answer to the rapid depopulation of the country, the question for the next census in a decade’s time will be: Will there be enough people left in Albania to keep the lights on?

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 4, 2024 20:49