Where the world's population is growing and shrinking

Apart from a low fertility rate, why is the Portuguese population declining?


3 Answers 3


As you write, fertility rate explains most of it, and immigration explains the rest.

People tend to migrate to richer countries, and Portugal is below average EU income. (Portugal is an EU member. The EU has freedom of movement, the citizens of any member state can relocate to other member states and work there.) Real per capita GDP is 30% less than in its neighbor Spain, and almost 50% less than in Germany.

Eurostat Real GDP per capita table

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    $\begingroup$ Also, there seems to be a concentration of wealth in the regions around a few larger cities (mainly Lisboa, Porto), so for the majority of the people who live in more rural areas, the numbers are even worse. And if they uproot their families to move to a region with more wealth and more jobs anyway, then why not go the whole distance and move to a different country with even more (perceived) opportunities, especially for younger people who are likely to speak passable English? $\endgroup$ May 11, 2020 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer, Portugal is a perfect example of the brain drain phenomena. It's also not technically a middle income country but it shows a lot of similarities to countries in the 'middle income trap' $\endgroup$
    – eps
    May 11, 2020 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Is Portugal poorer than Poland and Hungary? $\endgroup$
    – user366312
    May 11, 2020 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @user366312 I am sorry, I still do not see how these two are related. Yes, Portugal is below average EU income. No, Portugal is not poorer than Poland or Hungary, which as you can see from the table, are even further below the average. What is your point? Please elaborate. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    May 11, 2020 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisH - pretty soon we're all going to fired and all production will be moved to Antarctica where the work will be done by trained penguins. They work for fish, and they're just so gosh-darned cute! (And yes, I'm kidding...about the jobs, I mean - not about the "cute"... :-) $\endgroup$ May 12, 2020 at 13:33

This P3 website from September 9 2015 lists 10 points in Portuguese, mostly on brain drain. In English ⁠—

  1. Qualified emigration has grown 87.5% between 2001 and 2011, even though only 11% of the emigrants have a college degree).

  2. The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis was the great trigger: 4/5 of the individuals in the sample have left the country after 2008.

  3. Qualified emigrants are mostly young people (89.6%) and holders of post-graduate degrees (74.5%).

  4. About a third of the sample is made of people with training in STEM fields.

  5. Qualified emigration transfers workers to the central countries: UK, Germany, France, ...

  6. These flows have an effect on employment: 36.1% of them were unemployed in Portugal, vs 3.8% in the destination country.

  7. Earnings increase significantly: over 70% had a salary below 1000€ in Portugal, while over half the individuals has a salary above 2000€ in the destination country.

  8. For 95.4%, the principal reason to emigrate is fulfilling career where they feel realized professionally.

  9. Most of the inquired see themselves as emigrants "for life" on the current country or in other European countries (61.7% and 68.9%).

  10. According to the model used by the team, the cost to Portugal of this brain drain is 10,312,500,000€.


An alternative answer, which is based on the (certainly valid) answer from Giskard: People from "poorer" countries tend to migrate to richer countries, because they often equate wealth with happiness. Both terms might be connected in a way but they are definitely not the same.

In Germany, we have a lot of migrants from all over the world. It is a growing topic in society and politics, that these migrants are often unhappy here and do not settle in a long run. The more their original culture differs from ours, the less the chance they will be happy and integrate. Maybe now they have more money than before but what they lost is their true wealth: Their cultural daily life, home, in most cases their friends and relatives and many more things. As a result, migrants who do not integrate hit the economy very hard.

So my answer to your question is: Migration often takes place because of false conceptions of how life would be and what brings happiness.

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    $\begingroup$ It may not be a question of wealth, but finding a job at all. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2020 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ For sure there are plenty of motivations, like finding personal fullfillment in a job. I was just trying to illustrate that economics and psychology are deeply connected when it comes to migration. There's plenty of discussion going on in Germany since the migrant crisis began in 2015. Migrants begin to talk about their former conceptions and how reality hit hard lateron. $\endgroup$
    – Rome
    May 11, 2020 at 15:59

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