Fertility and age composition

In subsequent years, the fertility rate dropped abruptly and has now fallen below 1.3. All population groups have decreased at roughly the same rate. The decrease in the fertility rate seems to be somewhat more intensive in Tallinn.

The fertility rate of the indigenous Estonian population remained above the reproduction level for twenty years and during the 1970s, indigenousness was the most notable distinction of the Estonian fertility rate among the different social characteristics of the population. During the 1980s, the fertility rate of the population of foreign origin started to increase in accordance with the patterns of their native countries. By the end of the decade, it reached the fertility level of the indigenous population and thus the fertility rate of the total population of Estonia reached its peak in 1988 when the period’s total fertility rate exceeded 2.2 (number of birth per thousand people). Such a fertility level was the highest in 80 years.

Although there was no such phenomenon as a baby-boom in Estonia, the fertility trends still went through an unusual transformation in the late 1960s: over three-four years the fertility rate of the indigenous population increased by more than 17%. The growth did not extend to the foreign-born population and the fertility rate of that proportion of the population generally followed the falling trends of their native countries.

From the point of view of the ageing process, the Estonian population can be divided into two. After the members of the most populous generations reached old age in the sixties, the indigenous population became slightly younger. This process was supported by such independent factors as the stabilising of average life expectancy on a relatively low level, and a prominent growth in the fertility rate at the end of the sixties. The average age of the foreign-born population has been increasing rapidly throughout the postwar period, but the initial age composition was also unnaturally young. Due to differences between those two demographic segments, the share of both segments in the total population at a given point in time has played quite an important role in the formation of the general trends in the total population of Estonia. The latter ratio has been of special significance on the regional level and has given rise to several regional problems in contemporary society.

Significant changes in the age composition of the total population of Estonia took place during the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The share of the elderly population in the total population grew rapidly until the 1940s. Thereafter, intense immigration and a halt in the mortality development have kept the share of the elderly on a quite constant level. Due to the counterbalancing effect of the basic ageing processes, the increase in the proportion of the elderly has been unusually small, hence the ageing-related problems became acute in Estonia only in the 1990s.

At the moment it is too early to decide to what extent such a sharp decrease is caused by principal modifications in the fertility behaviour of the population and to what extent by changes in fertility timing. Regardless of the causes, the fertility trend described above has brought about a wave of age composition which during the first half of the 21st century is likely to aggravate the situation in all aspects of society. A prognosis made in the middle of the 1990s, according to which the year 1999 is estimated to remain the last year of rapid decrease in the fertility rate, provides no real assistance in the solution of social problems.

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