The preliminary data of the 2021 census, published this Wednesday (28) by the INE (National Institute of Statistics), show that the population of Portugal has decreased by 2% since the last survey, in 2011.
This is the first time since the 1970s that the Portuguese population has decreased from one census to the next.
Carried out almost entirely online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Portuguese census reports 10,347,892 people living in the country: around 214,000 fewer than in 2011.
The survey showed that there was an increase in the concentration of the population on the coast and a depopulation of the interior. About half of the Portuguese population is concentrated in 31 cities, the majority around Lisbon and Porto.
Of the 308 municipalities in the country, 257 saw their population decrease and only 51 recorded an increase in the number of inhabitants. During the previous decade, 198 municipalities had recorded population declines.
Only two regions in Portugal experienced an increase in population: the Lisbon metropolitan area (1.7%) and the Algarve (3.7%).
Although the number of people living in the Lisbon metropolitan area increased by 1.7%, residents of the Lisbon municipality decreased by 1.4%.
According to the National Institute of Statistics, preliminary data still does not allow a full analysis of the reasons for the change.
Other specialists indicate, however, that the increase in the cost of living in the capital – driven by the expressive rise in housing prices – may have contributed to an outlet for the more peripheral districts of Greater Lisbon.
The rise in house prices could also be the cause of the loss of inhabitants of the second city of the country, Porto, which has 2.4% fewer inhabitants compared to 2011.
Algarve beach, southern Portugal (Photo: Turismo do Algarve)
In the Algarve, the country’s most popular tourist destination, the increase in population is perhaps precisely linked to this economic sector, which guarantees a good part of the regional employment offer.
With the exception of the Algarve and the Lisbon Metropolitan Region, all the other regions saw their population decrease: Alentejo (-6.9%), Autonomous Region of Madeira (-6.2%), Center (- 4.3%), Autonomous Region of the Azores (-4.1%) and North (-2.7%).
With an aging population and one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, Portugal has had a negative natural balance (the difference between live births and deaths) for 12 consecutive years.
Over the past five years, as the country recovered from the economic crisis, the number of resident foreigners has steadily increased. In 2020, there were 662,095 regularized immigrants: an all-time high since the inception of the historic series in the mid-1970s.
Although it has helped prevent population decline in recent years, immigration has not been enough to keep the country’s people growing.
According to INE board chairman Francisco Lima, the country’s demographic decline is cause for concern and indicates that even migratory flows are failing to prevent depopulation.
“This means that our natural balance is not enough. It is negative and it is immediately a sign of concern. And now we see that even net migration is not enough. Looking back ten years, this is what we see. If there is no reversal of the natural balance, especially of births, we increasingly depend on immigration to increase the population, ”said Lima, in an interview with the newspaper Público.
Final census data will be released in 2022.