Employment and Population Density in Bulgaria and the EU
Bulgaria is the country in the EU with the largest employment gap between densely populated and sparsely populated areas. Data from the EU-SILC annual survey show that 57.4% of the population in low-population areas (generally, villages and small towns) and 73.7% in densely populated areas (the larger cities) is employed. This difference of more than 16 percentage points is practically unique to the EU, with the main reason for it being low employment in the villages.
At the same time, the comparison with EU average data over the period 2007-2016 shows that, except for a short period between 2011 and 2012, employment in densely populated settlements in Bulgaria is higher than the EU average. This is where the labor market recovery is most clearly visible - pre-crisis employment levels have almost been reached. Employment in densely populated areas in Bulgaria is higher than in countries such as France, Italy, Austria, Spain and Poland. In the sparsely populated areas, the improvement of the situation is only visible in the last two years, but the gap with the record employment of 2008 remains close to 10 percentage points.
From the graphs above, as well as from the attached maps, it is noticeable that in many EU countries the principle "more densely populated areas - higher employment" is far from valid. The average values for the Union actually show that there is almost no difference between employment in different areas (depending on their population density). Moreover, in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Greece, France, Germany and the Netherlands there is higher employment in smaller settlements than in cities.
The reasons for this may differ. The role of agriculture is undoubtedly important. Sparsely populated areas where it forms a larger share of the local economy and is characterized by higher labor intensity, have higher employment rates (Poland is a good example in this respect). Another factor is the willingness of the local population to travel to a workplace in a different region (and the remoteness of the workplace), which is most clearly seen in the intensity of daily labor migration. In many European countries people prefer to live outside big cities, although they actually travel every day and work in them. Infrastructure connectivity and the overall social environment in small settlements are also important - features that can prevent or promote lasting emigration. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, all these factors are most likely playing a negative role in the observed employment gap across densely and sparsely populated areas. Agriculture has a relatively small share in the economy, population mobility in large parts of the country is low, and in terms of infrastructure connectivity and the social environment of small settlements there is much to be desired.