Russia Subtracted Most People; India Added Most.

It’s Friday and time for something light.

In 2006, Russia lost 732,000 people. Don’t bother searching for them, because most of them were never born. Its neighbor Ukraine also misplaced 361,000 folk.

On the other hand, Indians got busy: in 2006, they added just over 17 million new tax deductions. This beat China by a lot: through its enlightened mandatory abortion policy, China lagged about 10 million behind India, adding just 7 million.

The USA did OK for itself, coming in at number four in the race to add mouths to feed, adding about 3 million. But countries in and around Eastern Europe—Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Moldova, Georgia, Hungary, Serbia, Lithuania, Lativa, Montenegro, Armenia, Estonia, Czech Rep. etc.—all lost population. These countries were just behind Russia and Ukraine, losing an average 30,000 for 2006. Germany also gave up about 11,000.

All other countries but these added population.

Nigeria just edged out the USA—look for a surge in spam in about sixteen years. And Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Brazil nipped at the State’s heels, each adding just under 3 million.

But these numbers tell only a partial story. The full tale is in this—very complicated—picture. DOWNLOAD PDF PICTURE. The thumbnail sketches, which show only 50 countries out the of the 141 available, are just a guide. To have the full benefit, you’ll have to download the PDF: there are just too many pictures and too much detail to show as a web image.

Population difference

Population difference

These show the difference in population (in 1000s) for each country where data is available (no Cuba, North Korea) from 1970 until 2006. Countries are sorted by how many people were added in 2006, from least to most.

A dotted line is placed at 0, where relevant. Numbers below this line show populations in decline; numbers above show growing populations. Since these are difference plots, they show acceleration or deceleration, as the case may be.

Although Russia and its former prisoner states have declined in population, most of these countries have rebounded since 1995-2000. They’re all still losing people, but at a slower rate. Not Hungary, though: they are not doing well in general.

To emphasize that these are differences in population, examine Iceland (page one, lower right). The choppiness is due to how the data is estimated: it is an artifact, and it proves there is some measurement error, but probably only +/- 1,000. Actually, Iceland is neither accelerating nor is it decelerating: it is adding a (roughly) constant 2,400 people a year. We’ll see how their volcano influences the 2011 numbers.

Such stories in these data! We’ll can’t cover them all, but just look at the wealth of them. In some cases, what has happened is obvious; in others, the situation is more opaque.

For example, was it Denmark’s (page two, middle right) first ever appearance in 1986 in the World Cup finals that persuaded the country that it had better arrest its long decline and get busy and make new strikers? And then, only to be disappointed after they were blown out of the second round in 2002?

Just look what war can do. Bosnia and Herzegovnia (page two, middle) took an enormous population hit, followed, as you will see looks usual, by a burst of babies and then a cool-off period.

Zimbabwe’s breakdown, well known to us, is also captured in the data. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (page six, middle left) is plainly evident. In fact, a glance at many Central African countries tells a tale of woe.

What about immigration? Look at Spain (page five, middle right) and France (page five, upper middle): both showed decelerating populations until the turn of the last century, when numbers shot up. Various reports attribute this surge to immigration and not to native births. A similar picture, with different timing, emerges for Italy (page 4, middle left), Portugal (page three, upper right), and other West European countries.

China (page six) might be number two in adding bodies, but they are doing so at a decelerating rate. Part of that has to do with mandatory abortions, part because of increasing affluence. Interesting is the rebound of population in 1980 after China’s last attempt to fashion Utopia by Death.

India (page six) is also decelerating. Affluence, too? Most likely.

Nigeria and the USA (both page six) are both accelerating, though the States might have slowed down a piece. The natural question is: how come? Both countries are growing more affluent, as China, India, and Japan (page three, middle) are, but their populations continue to decelerate. Immigration can explain some, but probably not all of the increase of the USA and Nigeria.

What makes these—and countries like Egypt, the Phillipines (both page six), Madagascar, Niger (both page five)—continue their accelerating for such a long period of time? No doubt the stories differ by country, but there must be commonalities.

What’s your take on the data?


  1. My hunch is that migration is the a much bigger variable than birth rate. All of the FSU (or CIS if you prefer) had a big drop in 90s, and the rate of decline has slowed. The wall fell and people went searching greener pastures.

    Iceland has had very little migration. However, that has changed as a result of the banking collapse. Iceland was a hedge fund masquerading as a country. I expect there will be a significant delcine the in their population starting in 2009.

    I hate the way this data is displayed. First, there is no sense of the population of these countries. I would rescale to percentage of population. Next, the vertical scales, the less the numbers are changing the more the line wiggles around. Third, the scale should include zero for every country.

  2. Doug M,

    Yeah, %-wise would tell you about which wiggles are important inside a country, but it wouldn’t tell you what these numbers do: what’s important between countries. Both, of course, are useful information.

    I’ll see if I can work it up and post a link.

  3. Having worked for many years now with the UN population data, I can tell you this: it’s subject to significant statistical revisions. Each and every year. The problem lies in the data acquisition, as many countries continue to provide only 5-year averages, and the UN statistical folks – who are doing yeoman job with relatively few resources! – interpolate these.

    There are a number of reasons for shifts in net births: not the least of which, in developing countries, is reduced child deaths in the wake of improved sanitation and health care; income levels play first a role in reducing net births beyond a set income level (which varies according to country!); at the end of the day, it’s more often changes in societal pressures and views of the future that influences this.

  4. John Opie,

    Quite right to remind us of the data’s sketchiness. There is, as pointed out above, certainly measurement error. I would not use this data to bet on particular numbers, but it does a reasonable job capturing gross trends.

  5. IMHO One needs to separate out birth rate from longevity changes.

    Angola has a life expectancy of 38 years and Macau has a life expectancy of 84 years.

    China has a birth rate of 14/1000. Life expectancy at birth is 73 years.
    .014 * 73 = 1.02. A slightly increasing population.

    Russia has a birth rate of 11/1000 and a life expectancy of 66 years.
    .011 * 66 = .726 – Russia is literally dying.

  6. Demographics is, from an economics viewpoint, really neat when you can get into wages and the like. It does have to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s largely an unexplored world from the perspective of economic analysis…

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