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Estonia Table of Contents



According to 1989 census figures, Estonia had a population of 1,565,662 (see table 2, Appendix). By 1994 this number had dropped to an estimated 1,506,927 as a result of negative natural growth rates and net out-migration beginning in 1990. Females outnumbered males by some 100,000 in 1991 (see fig. 4). Seventy percent of the population was urban. The birth rate in 1993 was 10.0 per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 14.0 per 1,000.

Tallinn, the capital, is the largest city, with about 479,000 inhabitants in 1989. Tartu, the second most populous city, had about 113,000 residents in the same year, and Narva, on the Russian border, had 81,000 (see table 3, Appendix). Since the late 1980s, many place-names have had their pre-Soviet names restored. These include the Saaremaa town of Kuressaare (formerly Kingissepa) and some 250 streets throughtout the country.

In 1934 Estonia had a population of 1,126,413. War losses and Soviet deportations brought that figure down to an estimated 850,000 by 1945. During the Soviet era, the population grew steadily, fueled largely by in-migration from other areas of the Soviet Union (see table 4, Appendix). During the 1950s and 1960s, net in-migration accounted for more than 60 percent of the total population growth. In recent years, net migration has reversed, with some 84,000 people, mostly Russians, having left between 1989 and 1993. In the mid-1990s, these trends were continuing, though more slowly. Since 1992 Estonia has been offering financial assistance to people wishing to resettle in Russia; in October 1993, it signed a treaty with Russia regulating repatriation and resettlement. According to public opinion polls conducted in 1993 and 1994, however, the vast majority of local Russians were not inclined to leave Estonia.

The reverse flow of migration is thought to have contributed in the early 1990s to a slight rise in the Estonian proportion of the population. In 1989 Estonians constituted only 61.5 percent of the population, while Russians made up 30.3 percent, Ukrainians 3.1 percent, Belorussians 1.7 percent, and Finns 1.1 percent; Jews, Tatars, Germans, Latvians, and Poles constituted the remaining 2.3 percent. This was in sharp contrast to 1934, when Estonians represented 88.2 percent of the population and Russians only 8.2 percent. This demographic shift was a major concern for Estonians, who feared losing control of their own country. Another worrisome statistic for Estonians was their disproportionately small share of the yearly natural population growth (births minus deaths) until 1990 and their large share of the population's decrease in 1991 (see table 5, Appendix). Although Estonians dominate in the countryside, the Russian population in Estonia is nearly 90 percent urban, living mainly in Tallinn and in the northeastern industrial towns of Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe, and Narva. Tallinn is about 47 percent Estonian. Kohtla-Järve is only about 21 percent Estonian, Sillamäe 5 to 6 percent, and Narva 4 percent.


In the mid-1980s, the average life expectancy in Estonia peaked at about sixty-six years for males and seventy-five years for females. Thereafter, these figures declined somewhat, especially for males, most likely because of deteriorating living standards. In 1994 overall life expectancy was estimated to be 70.0 years (65.0 years for males and 75.2 years for females). Infant mortality was about 19.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a 1994 estimate. Fertility rates dropped from an estimated 2.3 children born per woman in 1988 to about 2.0 in 1994. Abortion remained the main form of birth control, more so among Russians than Estonians. There were 24,981 abortions in 1992 (1,389 per 1,000 live births), although that figure was down from about 36,000 a decade earlier. Most women who have abortions are married. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. In recent years, a greater number of people have begun living together instead of marrying. Such couples account for 17 percent of all births in the country.

The primary cause of death is cardiovascular diseases, accounting for about 64 percent of all deaths in the mid-1990s. Cancer and accidents account for a large share as well. Estonia's suicide rate over the years has reflected the country's sociopolitical condition. In the mid-1970s, during the politically stagnant Brezhnev years, there were about 530 suicides per year. In 1990, after Estonia's political reawakening, suicides dropped to 425. In 1992, as economic conditions worsened, suicides climbed again, to 498. In November 1993, twenty-nine cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) were reported in Estonia, with two deaths having resulted from AIDS-related illnesses.

The state-run health care system inherited from the Soviet regime was being decentralized in the early 1990s and had yet to meet Western standards. In 1992 the number of physicians, equivalent to thirty-two per 10,000 inhabitants, was relatively high, but there was a shortage of nurses and other auxiliary medical staff. Hospital beds numbered ninety-two per 10,000 inhabitants, down from 121 in 1990. Although the cost of medicines increased, new imports from the West eased some of the chronic shortages of the Soviet era. But overall, shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics, remained a serious problem.

Data as of January 1995

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Estonia Table of Contents