Study highlights Slovakia's aging population

THOUGH Slovakia is now among the three youngest countries of the European Union, it is on pace to become one of the oldest nations by 2060.

(Source: SME)

One of the most distinctive features of demographic development in Slovakia in past two decades is that the population is ageing in all country’s districts and most of the municipalities. There are, however, visible differences between the regions when it comes to the average age and ageing index, with the western and central districts becoming older quicker than those in the north and the east, the Demographic Atlas presented to the public on March 12 suggests.

But the fact remains that in coming years ageing will be impacted mostly by the middle-aged generation which will gradually retire. “The demographic future of Slovakia is not optimistic,” Branislav Bleha, vice dean of the Comenius University’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, told the press.

Though the history has already proved that catastrophic predictions of so-called population pessimists did not come true, it is not very probable that Slovakia will turn away from the current trends in Europe. The terms like ageing and depopulation will gradually become part of the vocabulary of ordinary people, according to Bleha.

Age is increasing

The average age in Slovakia has increased to 39.6 years in 2013, which is 5.5 years more than 20 years ago. The index of ageing has developed in similar dynamics. While in 1993 there were 45 seniors per 100 children, in 2013 it was 88 seniors per 100 children, the Demographic Atlas shows.

Moreover, the previously positive trend of decreasing values of the economic dependency ratio has changed into negative. Since 2009 the values of the ratio have slightly grown, which means that there is bigger pressure of the economically inactive part of the population on the economically active one, said Viera Pilinská of Infostat.

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The ageing is visible also at the regional level, with the average age increasing in all Slovakia’s districts. The oldest district is Bratislava I, while the youngest are Kežmarok (Prešov Region) and Námestovo (Žilina Region). The gap between them is 11.5 years, Pilinská added.

Among other old districts in Slovakia are other Bratislava districts, as well as districts in Považie and Pohronie regions. The fastest ageing districts are Bratislava V and Banská Bystrica.

Newborns and migration not enough

The ageing is driven by lower growth in population. The number of people grew only by 70,000 between 1993 and 2013, said Danuša Jurčová of Infostat.

This is impacted by two factors. First is the drop in birth rate which fell significantly in 1990s. While at the time Slovakia belonged to countries with the highest birth rates in Europe, now it is among nations with the lowest birth rates, with only 1.3 children per woman, said Branislav Šprocha of Infostat.

Though the birth rate has slightly increased in the past decade, caused mostly by the fact that women postpone the time for having their first child, it still cannot cover the drop in the 1990s, he added.

Another important factor is foreign migration, which has been affected by political and social changes in society. In the beginning of the 1990s it was influenced mostly by separation of Czechoslovakia and the mutual exchange between the two new countries, Jurčová explained.

Migration then rose after Slovakia joined the EU and the Schengen Area, and especially after Romania and Bulgaria joint the European club in 2007 when the number of immigrants stood at some 9,000 a year. The growth culminated in 2008, but then decreased with the start of economic crisis, she added.

“The situation has stabilised now and the number of the immigrants amounts to some 5,000,” Jurčová told The Slovak Spectator.

These migrants go mostly to the regions with foreign investments, Bratislava (up to one quarter), Trnava and Nitra. Currently also the Žilina Region is attractive, the atlas shows.

Slovakia however still belongs to countries with relatively low number of foreigners. In 2013 nearly 72,000 foreigners lived in the country, which was 1.3 percent of total population. In the Czech Republic it was 4 percent.

The positive trends like slight increase in birth rate and benefits from foreign migration, however, cannot compensate the drop in the shrinking and ageing population, the authors of the Demographic Atlas warn.

Dealing with the problem

The government and other relevant authorities should start dealing with this problem soon, according to Pilinská.

“The number of people born in the 1970s is twice as high as the number of currently born children,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “They will soon be in retirement age and it will be necessary to support them.”

Pilinská admits it is complicated to deal with this problem as you cannot order young people to have children. While before 1989 there were some pro-family measures, like loans for young married couple and construction of kindergartens, the situation has changed after the Velvet Revolution. Women not only postpone the time when they have children, but the families also need to get enough money for their family life.

“It is necessary to motivate people to have children in order to increase the age group of 0-14,” Pilinská continued. “To pass some pro-population measures, but they should not be one-off since then they would have only short effect.”

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