Hungary’s population dropped by almost fifty thousand last year while previous growth in the fertility rate was also reversed. Fertility rates all across the EU are below replacement level, including in Ireland where it was 1.63 children per woman in 2020.
The figures are disappointing news for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which has for long deemed halting depopulation a priority. The cabinet has taken credit for positive developments in recent years, helped by generous subsidy schemes to families.
The drop in population from 9.69mn to 9.64mn was the second-biggest decline since 1900, excluding the COVID-19 years.
The fertility rate slipped to 1.52% from 1.59% in 2021, ending years of growth. Neighbouring Slovakia had a fertility rate of 1.57 in 2020.
In 2021, the country’s population fell by nearly 60,000, the steepest decline in 145 years as the number of deaths exceeded 150,000, the highest since the end of WWII in 1945.
The death toll from or with COVID-19 stands at close 49,000, which ranks Hungary among the top five in terms of death per 1mn inhabitants globally.
The government has long advocated a “procreation over immigration” approach to deal with demographic decline and introduced a string of measures. Prime Minister Viktor Orban repeatedly said that family support programmes are his government’s answer to migration.
A string of family support schemes from state grants to preferential loans to families helped to lift the fertility rate from 1.2% in 2010 to close to 1.6% in 2021.