Lithuania has lost nearly a fifth of its population since 1990. The sharp decline has mainly been caused by emigration, but also by falling birth rates and deteriorating public health. Five of the six residents are Lithuanians, while the Polish-speaking people constitute the largest minority group.
Since the turn of the millennium, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians have emigrated to look for jobs in other EU countries, most of them in the UK and Ireland. Between 2005 and 2014, the population decreased by an average of 1.4 percent annually. In particular, emigration increased in the wake of the financial crisis that erupted in 2008 (see Economic overview). It is mainly young people who have emigrated. Together with the low birth rates, this means that the population quickly receives a larger proportion of the elderly. The Lithuanian “colonies” abroad are attracting new emigrants, and economists warn that long-term emigration can have serious consequences for the social economy.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Lithuania, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
Lithuania has a long tradition of emigration and population reduction. From the end of the 19th century until the Second World War, about half a million people migrated in search of a better life. During the war, the loss of residents became even greater (see below).
The Lithuanians make up five-sixths of the population. During the Soviet era (1944–1991) not as many Russian-speaking immigrants came to Lithuania as to neighboring Latvia, and Poles are therefore the largest minority in Lithuania. Most Polish-speaking residents live in the countryside in the area around Vilnius and in the eastern border areas, while the Russian-speaking people live mainly in Vilnius and Klaipėda.
After independence in 1991, Lithuania granted citizenship to all permanent residents who wished it, including those who came to the country during the Soviet era. However, the Polish minority has been dissatisfied with the Lithuanian authorities, partly because of the status of Polish-speaking schools (see Education) and the right to officially write personal and local names with Polish spelling (see below).
The Jewish minority in Lithuania amounts to approximately 4,000 people. There is also a Muslim-Tatar minority of a few thousand people and a unique Tatar-Jewish people’s pillar, the Karaim.
Before the Second World War, a large part of the urban population was Polish or Jewish – in Klaipėda (Memel in German) even German – while the countryside was dominated by Lithuanians. The Jews had been in the country since the 1300s, especially in Vilnius, which was a world center of Yiddish culture. But the Nazi occupiers and local collaborators killed over 90 percent of the Jewish group in 1941–44, about 200,000 people. It became the beginning of the great Jewish massacres during the Second World War.
Hard hit population
Despite pressure from the outside world, the legal settlement of mass murders of Jews during the World War has slowed. Even today there is an outbreak of open anti-Semitism in the country. Only in 2011 did Parliament decide on compensation for Jews whose property was seized or destroyed during the Nazi and Soviet occupations.
Lithuania was badly affected by World War II and also by the persecution during the communist era. It is estimated that the country lost about 780,000 residents during the period 1940–1941 and 1944–1952 due to escape, Soviet deportations to Siberia or Central Asia, fighting and executions. The German-speaking residents of western Lithuania and hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians fled west at the end of the war, and many of the urban poles moved to Poland after the war ended. It was not until 1968 that Lithuania again had the same population as before the war, mainly through immigration of Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians.
There are significant minorities of Lithuanians in Poland, Belarus, Kaliningrad (Russia), the United States and Canada.
Lithuanian, like Latvian, belongs to the Baltic language group within the Indo-European language family. The difference between Lithuanian and Latvian can be compared with the difference between Icelandic and Swedish.
The official languages of the medieval Lithuanian Principality were Belarusian and Latin. After the union with Poland became the language of Polish nobles, priests and citizens. Lithuanians were spoken mostly by peasants until the mid-19th century. A modern Lithuanian-speaking culture was created during the 19th century and early 1900s, but it was countered by Tsarist Russia and seriously developed only during the independence period of 1918-1940 (see Ancient History).
During the Soviet era, Russian replaced other foreign languages in school education and became the dominant language in the state administration. Since 1988, Lithuanian is again official language. According to a 1995 language law, all official documentation and correspondence must be in Lithuanian. City names must be written in Lithuanian form, and everyone who is a citizen and resident of the country must spell their names according to the Lithuanian alphabet in passports and other official documents.
Most adult Lithuanians understand and speak Russian, many older people also know German. Young people are increasingly using English as a second language.
Lithuanian pronunciation guide
Ą ą, Ę ę, Į į, Ų ų = the accent at the bottom gives some elongation of the vowel sound
Č č = tj, Š š = sch, Ž ž = sounding sch as in many French words
C = ts
Ė = much like the Swedish’s “not”, Ū ū = far o
Ch = as in German laughter
Dž = toning dzj
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
Lithuanians 83.7%, Poles 6.6%, Russians 5.3%, others 4.4% (2012)
Number of residents
2 827 721 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
67.5 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
10.7 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
14.3 per 1000 residents (2016)
-1.4 percent (2017)
1.7 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
53.9 percent (2017)
74 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
80 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
69 years (2016)
Lithuanian is officially language 1
- Russian and Polish are largest minority languages