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Population Changes since Independence

In 1994, according to official estimates, Latvia had a population of 2,565,854 people. This figure was smaller than for the 1989 census (2,666,567), reflecting a fundamental change in the demography of Latvia. The population in the republic decreased for the first time since 1945, except in 1949 when more than 40,000 Latvians were deported. Between January 1989 and January 1994, the total decrease was more than 100,000.

Two important factors have contributed to this change. During 1991, 1992, and 1993, the natural increase was negative; in other words, more people died than were born. The moving variable has been the number of births. In 1991 the total number born was only 34,633, which was 8.7 percent less than in the previous year and 18 percent less than in 1987 (see table 18, Appendix). The number of deaths remained about constant. For the first time since 1946, more deaths than births occurred in 1991--by a margin of 116. This gap increased significantly in 1992, when 3,851 more deaths than births were recorded. The death rate increased from 13.5 per 1,000 in 1992 to 16.3 per 1,000 in 1994, and the birth rate fell from 12.9 per 1,000 in 1992 to 9.5 per 1,000 in 1994. The postponement by many families of procreation is not surprising in view of the economic traumas suffered by most people and the general political and economic uncertainties prevailing in the country.

An even more important factor at work in the overall decrease of population has been the net out-migration of mostly nonindigenous individuals (see table 19, Appendix). The principal factors affecting the direction of migration included Latvia's declaration of independence and its laws checking uncontrolled immigration into the country. Independence brought a shift in political power to the Latvian group. Many individuals who could not adjust to living in a newly "foreign" country or who did not want to accommodate the new Latvian language requirements in certain categories of employment decided to leave.

A sociological poll published in November 1992 indicated that 55 percent of non-Latvians would not move east (that is, to other parts of the former Soviet Union) even if they were offered a job and living accommodations; 19 percent expressed a willingness to do so (3 percent only temporarily); and 26 percent said they did not know whether they would move. Only about 205,000 non-Latvians out of 1.3 million living in Latvia were willing to leave permanently if offered jobs and roofs over their heads. Aside from economic considerations, this surprisingly strong attachment to Latvia by non-Latvian ethnic groups is attributable to the fact that many of them were born in Latvia and have had little if any contact with their forebears' geographical areas of origin. According to the 1989 census, of the non-Latvian ethnic groups in the country, about 66 percent of Poles, 55 percent of Russians, 53 percent of Jews, 36 percent of Lithuanians, 31 percent of Belorussians, and 19 percent of Ukrainians had been born in Latvia (see table 20, Appendix).

Marriage and Divorce

In spite of Latvians' fears of becoming a minority and in spite of the strains caused by Russification and language inequities, a relatively high proportion of Latvians have married members of other ethnic groups. Some 30 percent of marriages involving Latvians were of mixed nationality in 1988 (although only 17 percent of all marrying Latvians in 1988 entered into mixed marriages). This rate of intermarriage was one of the highest of any titular nationality in the republics of the Soviet Union. Comparable rates were found in Belorussia (34.6 percent) and Ukraine (35.6 percent); a much lower rate was found in Estonia (16.1 percent). The marriage statistics of 1991 do not indicate any significant changes in this respect, with just under 18 percent of all Latvians marrying members of other ethnic groups.

Latvia has an extremely high divorce rate, but there is no adequate explanation for it. In 1991 Latvia registered 22,337 weddings and 11,070 divorces, for a divorce rate of 49.6 percent. Among various ethnic groups, these rates vary: Latvian males, 39.1 percent, and females, 39.9 percent; Lithuanian males, 52.7 percent, and females, 45.0 percent; Polish males, 43.7 percent, and females, 54.5 percent; Russian males, 60.2 percent, and females, 58.3 percent; Belarusian males, 58.8 percent, and females, 61.0 percent; Ukrainian males, 64.4 percent, and females, 65.2 percent; Jewish males, 67.6 percent, and females, 65.9 percent; and males of other ethnic groups, 64.8 percent, and females, 70.0 percent. During the first nine months of 1992, as compared with the same period in 1991, marriages decreased by 10 percent, but divorces increased by 24 percent. For every 1,000 marriages, there were 683 divorces.

Perhaps the instability of marriage accounts for the relatively high percentage of births outside of marriage. In 1989 in Latvia, 15.9 percent of infants were born to women who were not married. In Lithuania the comparative rate was 6.5 percent, but in Estonia the rate was 25.2 percent. In the Soviet Union as a whole in 1988, the rate was 10.2 percent.

Data as of January 1995

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