The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bulgaria’s vanishing act: Population dives by more than 11 percent over the past decade

Bulgarians dive into a lake to catch a wooden crucifix as part of Epiphany Day celebrations in Sofia on Jan. 6, 2022. (Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images)

BERLIN — Bulgaria’s population shrunk more than 11 percent over the past decade, according to its latest census, as the Eastern European country struggles to stem the tide of young people seeking more-lucrative work abroad amid low birthrates.

It’s a trend echoed in other countries across Southern and Eastern Europe. North Macedonia has shed about 10 percent of its population in the past 20 years, while in 2020, Greece began paying out $2,250 cash bonuses to new parents in an attempt to boost birthrates there.

Between 2011 and 2021, Bulgaria’s population dropped by 844,000 people, or 11.5 percent, to 6.5 million, according to preliminary census data from Bulgaria’s National Statistics Institute. The country’s population peaked shortly before the fall of communism at nearly 9 million.

According to European Union estimates, the population will slip to 5.3 million by 2050.

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The numbers confirm the “deepening of negative demographic trends” in the past 30 years, Bulgaria’s statistics office said. With the exception of the capital, Sofia, the populations of all districts in the country were in decline. The statistics office attributed the decrease to both low birthrates and migration.

Bulgaria has the lowest per-capita income in the 27-member European Union. But since 2014, Bulgarians have been entitled to work and live anywhere in the bloc, with many leaving to seek better pay and career options.

Birthrates in Bulgaria are in decline but not more so than elsewhere in Europe, with the main demographic crisis being the “constant emigration of educated and qualified people of an active age,” according to a 2018 report on demographics in Bulgaria by the German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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