European Population projections: urban growth, rural decline

Populations are projected to grow in almost three out of five urban regions of the European Union (EU), whereas they are likely to shrink in four out of five rural regions by 2050. This information comes from the latest population projections of regional demographic patterns across EU countries and the analysis of results from the urban-rural typology perspective.

Between 2019 and 2050, the overall urban population is projected to increase in 15 EU Member States, ranging from +2.3 % in Croatia to +35.4 % in Malta. Along with Malta, Ireland and Sweden are also projected to record increases of more than 20 % in their overall urban populations (+29.2 % and +25.1 % respectively).

In contrast, the overall urban population is projected to decrease in nine EU Member States: Bulgaria (-1.4 %), Portugal (-1.6 %), Hungary (-1.7 %), Lithuania (-2.7 %), Italy (-3.1 %), Romania (-8.6 %), Poland (-10.3 %), Greece (-16.7 %) and Latvia (-17.7 %).

Over the same period, the overall rural population is projected to increase in just four EU Member States: Ireland (+24.5 %), Sweden (+10.9 %), Denmark (+1.2 %) and Belgium (+1.0 %). At the other end of the scale, 20 Member States are projected to record declines in their overall rural populations, ranging from -43.5 % in Lithuania to -0.6 % in Austria. Significant declines of more than 20 % are also projected in Latvia’s rural population (-37.6 %), as well as the rural populations in Bulgaria (-26.8 %), Romania (-25.0 %) and Croatia (-23.3 %).

Regarding intermediate regions, populations are projected to decrease in 17 EU Member States and increase in eight, with the largest population changes projected in Ireland and Estonia (+30.6 % and -41.7 % respectively).

For more information:

  • The data presented in this article are based on the 2016 version of NUTS (the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics). It covers all 1169 regions classified as NUTS level 3 and the 47 Statistical Regions (SR) agreed between the European Commission and EFTA countries. EUROPOP2019 population projections at subnational level were produced for NUTS level 3 regions, for all EU and EFTA countries, and are consistent with the population projections at national level, using population data on 1 January 2019 as a starting point. Eurostat’s population projections result from a set of assumptions on future developments for fertility, mortality and  migration. In other words, population projections are ‘what-if’ scenarios that show population developments under a set of assumptions. For this reason, population projections should not be considered as forecasts.
  • For the results from the urban-rural perspective, it is assumed that the classification of a NUTS 3 region by urban-rural typology does not change over the projections time horizon. Therefore, the projected populations should be read as referring to regions classified predominantly urban, intermediate or predominantly rural as of 1 January 2019.
  • Eurostat database on population projections
  • Eurostat Statistics Explained articles on Population projections at regional level and Population projections in the EU
  • Eurostat website section dedicated to population projections
  • Eurostat metadata on population projections