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Latvia:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

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Latvia is situated in the northern Europe on the east coast of the Baltic Sea and borders with the two other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as with Russia and Belarus. The territory covers 64,600 sq. km, the length of its border on land is 1 862 km, and its sea boarder is 494 km long.

The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia has released a video encapsulating some of the critical figures that make the people of Latvia such a unique nation.

Demographic Situation

The demographic situation in Latvia over the recent years has been unfavourable, as since 1991 the natural growth of the population has been negative. The male/female ratio has not changed essentially over the last years and in 2014 comprised 45.8% and 54.2%, respectively. Moreover, in years to come, the population is expected to continue ageing. The insufficient financial support for families having babies was declared as one of the reasons for low birth rate.

Infant mortality tends to decrease. In 1995 infant mortality was 18.8 per 1,000 births, in 2013 it has come down to 4.4 due to the improvement of the health care system. Net vital statistics has an ever-increasing ratio in population decrease while migration impact declines.

Population, thousands








Employment rate and unemployment rate (%)

Age group Years Rate of employed to the total population Rate of unemployed to the active popolation
15-64 2005 63.2 9.1
15-64 2006 66.3 7.0
15-64 2007 68.4 6.2
15-64 2008 68.6 7.8
15-64 2009 61.1 17.3
15-64 2010 59.3 19.0
15-64 2011 60.8 16.6
15-64 2012 63.1 15.2
15-66 2013 65.0 12.1

Age structure of population against the total number of the population (%)

2000 2005





2013 2014

All inhabitants, of whom at the age of:

100 100





100 100


18 15





14 15


61 63





67 66


21 22





19 19

Emigration by age and gender, %

Emigration by age and gender 2011.jpg

Long-term migration

Net migration
2000 -16 428
2005 -10 952
2006 -8 807
2007 -7 946
2008 -22 367
2009 -34 477
2010 -35 640
2011 -23 127

Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

The overall decrease of population and birth rate has led to significant decline in number of pupils and students. This has led to significant number of closure and reorganisation of especially rural schools. (134 closed and ca 170 reorganised respectively in the period of 2009 - 2012.) The established working group on rural schools is in the process of an action plan development. While steps have been taken to promote internationalization of higher education and thus attract more foreign students.

Today the larger part of Latvian population, i.e. slightly more than one and a half million inhabitants resides in city areas. The proportion of country and city dwellers has remained practically unchanged during the last ten years.  Latvian cities and towns differ greatly in size. 15 cities have a population of over 10 000, the largest of these being Rīga (population 701 185), Daugavpils (98 089), and Liepāja (79 995). However the smallest Latvian towns are Durbe (575), Subate (721) and Pāvilosta (1 066). High population concentration in the capital is observed. It may be attributed to the lack of workplaces elsewhere in Latvia, especially in the countryside, and majority of students stay in the capital instead of returning to native town.

The massive migration from Russia and other Soviet Socialist Republics (Belarus, Ukraine, etc.) during the Soviet years substantially changed the ethnic composition of Latvia. The total number of Latvians declined from 77% of all residents in 1935 to 52% in 1989. Even during the last years before the collapse of the Soviet Union there was large-scale immigration to Latvia.

After the renewed independence of Latvia, the process of immigration was again regulated by state law, government regulations and state institutions; thus, immigration rapidly slowed down. The year 1992 marked a turning point when regulations were issued on how foreign nationals and stateless persons may enter and stay in Latvia. 215,000 people emigrated from Latvia in the 1990s. The number of Latvians in the population decreased by 16,000 during this period, but the number of non-Latvians decreased by 199,000. During recent years, the number of immigrants augments each year while those emigrating are by 1000 more on the average. In 2005, long-term international immigration to Latvia changed compared with 2003 – from 1364 to 1886; up by 38%. After joining the European Union, an increasing emigration in comparison to the previous years was observed in 2004 and 2005 due to higher numbers of inhabitants moving to other European countries for work. Long-term emigration abroad increased vastly - from 2210 in 2003 to 25 200 in 2012.

The average life expectancy for newborns in 2013 was 74 years. The average life expectancy of men is lower than that of women in all countries; however, in Latvia the difference is particularly large. During the last ten years, the average life expectancy of male newborns has been constantly at least 10 years less than that of female neonates (in 2014, 69.5 and 79.0, respectively). The situation is aggravated by such unfavourable factors as alcoholism and unnatural death.
The average life expectancy also has territorial characteristics: in rural areas the life expectancy of both genders is lower than in urban areas - by three years for women and up to a year and a half for men. In part, these differences can be explained by the overall unfavourable social situation in countryside as well as the lower level and more complicated accessibility of medical assistance. To improve the life expectancy the national policy gets more focused on issues of health promotion and the quality of life.

Latvians (and Livs) are the indigenous people of Latvia, but there are many other ethnic groups living in Latvia, of which Russian minority is the largest one.
In the beginning of 2013, the ethnic distribution of Latvia’s population was 61.1 % Latvians, 26.2 % Russians, 3.5 % Belorussians, 2.3 % Ukrainians, 2.2 % Poles, 1.3% Lithuanians and 0.3 % Jews and Roma. Germans, Estonians, Tatars and many other nationalities also live in Latvia.  Actually, the total number of national minorities is not particularly large in Latvia, and each minority group (except Russians) is relatively small. The biggest and most active communities in Latvia are Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and Roma. People of foreign descent mainly live in the seven major cities of Latvia: Rīga, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Ventspils, and Rēzekne.

Linguistic Situation

Latvian is the official language in Latvia, states the Constitution (Satversme) and the Official Language Law passed in 1989. The Latvian language belongs to the Baltic group of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest and only living relative is Lithuanian. On the other hand, the recent gene research studies reveal that genetically Latvians are close relatives to Finns and Estonians. Latvia is divided into four historic regions – Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale and Latgale (though these regions are not used as sub-national governmental jurisdictions). Inhabitants of Latgale speak Latgalian language.

The most common minority language is Russian, as there are many Russian-speaking people in Latvia, not only Russians, who constitute the second largest population group (after Latvians), namely,  37,2% (2011).

The official language of instruction in public sector educational institutions is Latvian. However, ethnic minority education is one of the core issues due to ethnic composition of population and education is provided in other languages as well, namely Russian, Estonian, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Byelorussian and Roma. A wide network of state-financed ethnic minority schools functions in Latvia. The minority schools are providing general education in an ethnic minority language and the Latvian language. In order to promote society integration and knowledge of the Latvian language, the reform of ethnic minority education has been carried out since 1999. 


The Constitution of Latvia (Satversme) declares that the church is separated from the state, and everybody has the right to freedom of religion.

Historically, since the Protestant Reformation movement in the 16th century, the Lutheran church has played a leading role in Latvia. The Reformation brought about great change in the Baltic Region of Europe, with impact on education and language. A rise in education and literacy was in part a result in the printing of books in local languages. However, also Catholicism with the Jesuit order had an impact of spreading education. Today, there are around 25 religious confessions in Latvia, of which Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox are the largest ones. Churches and religious organizations are free to preach their doctrines and to perform rituals. The preaching of the doctrines of the churches and religious organizations and other ritual activities, as well as the places of worship may not be exploited for purposes contrary to the Constitution and laws.

In Soviet times the churches were oppressed in the Baltic states. Many priests were deported to Siberia and churches were declared state property .The teaching of religion was banned, persecuted and punished. Extensive atheist propaganda was developed by means of literature, press, radio, television, theatre and cinema. Together with the nation's movement of independence came a "spiritual renaissance". Many priests took an active part in the movement of national liberation. The reinstated state returned the deprived buildings and property to churches, and assigned the force of law to marriages established in the church.

Today the teaching of religion as an optional subject alongside with ethics has been restored in public schools. Instruction in these schools is organized according to the programmes confirmed by the State Education Centre. Pupils are free to choose to study this subject, and are obligated to have an application from parents or guardians. Christian instruction and the study of ethics are financed from the state budget.