The Pandemic - a record mortality and a historic reversal in migration
Last week we commented on the data on population dynamics and the fact that 51 municipalities are experiencing population growth in 2020. Now we will focus on the factors of change in the country's population, looking at natural and mechanical growth in 2020. The year of the pandemic brought serious changes to the demographic processes in the country. On one hand, we have record mortality, which further worsens natural growth. On the other, the country reports positive migration for the first time since the beginning of the transition. Hence the reversal of mechanical growth.
During 2020 all districts in the country experienced negative natural growth. On a municipal level, only one municipality manages to remain above zero – Tvarditsa, which has very low natural growth (by 4 people). The Nikolaevo municipality is also an exception, in that its natural growth is exactly zero. All other municipalities are on the negative side of the equation - their population is declining due to the natural processes. Big municipalities, as expected, are heading the list by absolute population drop due to natural causes. What is more worrying is the sharp worsening of their indicators last year.
Sofia municipality reports negative natural growth of the amount of 4613 people, while in recent years this indicator had shown a decline in the margin of 2500 people. This represents an almost doubling of the negative natural growth in the capital. In Plovdiv, the worsening is similar – from a common decline due to natural causes with 700-800 people per year to 1726 people during 2020. The reason can be found in the high mortality, which grew with 2000 people in Sofia municipality, and with almost 800 people in the Plovdiv municipality. Generally, the differences by municipalities in the coefficient of natural growth remain – the big municipalities with strong economies stand significantly better compared to to the depopulating regions in the country. Nonetheless, the worsening natural growth of 2020 is ubiquitous, reflecting the difficult year.
The positive news in 2020 is the reversal of migration and the positive mechanical population growth in the country. Overall, the population grew by 30 715 people as a result of positive mechanical growth – mainly driven by the return of Bulgarians in the country during the first months of the pandemic. A total of 205 municipalities report positive net migration in 2020 - unprecedented in the new history of the country. For a comparison, in 2019 their number did not exceed 100. The big surprise comes also from their breakdown. The biggest losers are traditional leaders in migration – the big cities. Sofia municipality lost almost 16 thousand people, Plovdiv – over 4 thousand, and Varna – over 2.3 thousand people. While big cities are losing, their periphery is winning. The periphery of Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna is the biggest winner of the 2020 migration.
The Rodopi municipality has the greatest mechanical growth of 2642 people as a result of the migration. The second place is taken by Kostinbrod municipality, with mechanical growth of 2269 people. The top 10 in mechanical growth consist almost entirely of peripheral municipalities of the big centers. Similar is the situation in most district centers – in Burgas, Ruse and Stara Zagora a decline in the regional center and growth in the peripheral municipalities can be observed. Meanwhile in Gabrovo, all are reversing the tendency and mark positive mechanical growth, including the district center Even in the northwest the small and depopulating municipalities report small positive mechanical growth. The coefficient of mechanical growth, however, confirms that the change is most distinct around the three big economic centers.
The immense change in mechanical growth is a result of two processes. The first is the return of Bulgarians from abroad in the beginning of the pandemic and the positive migration in the country. Albeit to different extents, this return is observed in the entire country. The second process is internal migration, which in the year of the pandemic is from the big city to the small populated location. This is as much a real change, as it is a formalization of a previously unreported reality. A detailed look at the case of the villages in the Gabrovo district confirms this – mixed registrations of people, who are already in the particular village and a real settlement of others from the big city. Both processes looked unthinkable prior to the pandemic. And although the periphery is winning at the expense of the big city, it is important to consider strong economic centers in a wider sense – nucleus and wide periphery, which both hold potential for change.