Competing predictions for demographic future of the Czech Republic

01-09-2008

Two very different predictions have come to light about the Czech Republic’s long-term demographic future. One version predicts a growing population, the other predicts population decline. Who is right? A headline in one major Czech newspaper says it loudly enough “By 2060: Czech a land of foreigners,” adding that up to a third of the Czech population will consist of foreigners in a matter of decades. The undertones may seem xenophobic to some, but is this really true?

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission A new study by the demographics department of the Prague Economics University suggests that the Czech population is likely to grow from present levels of 10.4 million to around 13 million, with immigration largely responsible for the rise in numbers. Yet the findings are in direct contradiction to newly released figures from the European Union Statistics Office Eurostat, which suggest that in fact, the Czech population is likely to fall by around a million.

So who is right? The Czech study argues that Eurostat is using outdated immigration numbers. For example, they say that Eurostat estimates annual immigration at 24,000, even though last year’s figures showed around 84,000 immigrants came to the country, mainly from the Ukraine, Slovakia, Vietnam and Russia. At present there are around 410,000 legal immigrants in the Czech Republic. They also criticize Eurostat’s birth rate figures, noting that last year the country had 114,500 births, while EU estimates predict a lower 106,500 children born.

A third recently published study by demographics experts in Berlin appears to concur with the Eurostat finding, suggesting a net fall of the Czech population by 2030 to 9.7 million. A map of Europe, published by the Institute underlines the situation. While the areas around Prague are expected to see a moderate population increase, the rest of the country is predicted to see a significant population decrease – up to 12 percent in the east of the country and 6 percent in the west. This trend is repeated across Eastern Europe, with the former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Belarus facing population decreases of up to 18 percent.

By 2050, every third Czech will, according to the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, be over 65 years of age. Ageing populations have been a worry for all of Europe’s governments concerned about how to pay out pensions in the future.

So is there any consensus on these varying analyses? Certainly, everyone agrees that Czechs need to increase birth-rates. At present, Czech couples have, on average, 1.33 children, nowhere near the 2.1 required to naturally sustain the population. Secondly, whether the net population increases or decreases, everyone agrees the population will continue to age. Thirdly, immigration into the Czech Republic is likely to play an ever growing role in the nation’s demographics – the indigenous population is predicted to fall no matter what, with only immigration able to offset these losses. In itself, that will certainly lead to escalating arguments over integration and perceived “job-stealing” by foreigners. Yet for all the competing analyses, a firm strategy for what to do about it has yet to emerge.

01-09-2008