The changing causes of migration in the world’s fastest-shrinking country

by Natalia Pîrțac

Traditional Republic of Moldova folk dancers entertain the crowds during the Europe Day official opening ceremony in the European Village of Chisinau, Moldova on May 10, 2014. Youth accounts for more than half of the total number of migrants according to official statistics. PHOTO: AFP © EU/NEIGHBOURHOOD INFO CENTRE

Moldova is the fastest-shrinking country in the world, according to the statistics provided by the BBC. The population decline is mainly caused by emigration, as stated in the same information source. Migration prevails among youth and takes many forms: labour migration, student migration and migration for family reunification purposes.

Moldova population statistics. Source: BBC

According to official statistics, the number of young people who left the country has increased in the past years. In urban areas, youth accounts for 57.3% of the total number of migrants, while the same indicator is more than 60% for villages. Two thirds of men and 43% of women who migrate are at young age.

The result is an exacerbated demographic decline and increased dependency ratio with deriving socioeconomic implications.

Most studies describe Moldovan migration as being driven by economic motivations, mainly due to poverty, lack of employment opportunities and low salaries. According to the available World Bank data, poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population) was 29% in 2003, diminishing to 11.4% in 2014. However, despite the progress made in decreasing its poverty rate, the Republic of Moldova continues to be one of the only two lower middle income countries in Europe. According to the data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics, the nominal average salary in 2015 was 4,610.9 MDL (approximately 230 USD).

Therefore, mass migration in Moldova has a strong economic catalyst. At the same time, emigration is supported by the social networks established abroad. It should be noted that even in the case of student migrants, two countries that cover more than 50% of this group – Russia (31%), and Italy (21%), are also the main destinations for Moldovan emigrant workers. Thus, the choice to pursue education abroad might be partially linked to relatives and friends who have already migrated.

However, the underlying factors of migration in Moldova have been changing. People who earn good salaries, but are unhappy with the socioeconomic instability also leave the country, affirmed the Chief of the Center for Demographic Research, Olga Gagauz, quoted by Deutsche Welle.

More than 600 thousand citizens have left abroad for good. Labour migration has transformed into permanent migration. Most probably, these persons will not return. Many families have been reunified and children have been integrated in the education institutions there. This is a great demographic loss and it will contribute to the deepening of the demographic decline, the decrease and aging of the population. From the socioeconomic point of view, we are losing young, working, well trained population that will contribute to the growth of European economies and not ours.

Nevertheless, such declarations should not be understood as excluding economic push factors of migration and the role of social networks, but rather as highlighting the evolving character of this phenomenon in Moldova. It might also point out to a vicious cycle, where the negative socioeconomic effects of emigration lead to more people leaving the country. However, it should be noted that migration is an effect of preceding issues and should not be seen as the root of all problems, but as an amplifier instead, without dismissing the positive effects that remittances have generated by increasing population’s disposable income.


[1] BBC News. The world at seven billion

[2] International Organization for Migration. Extended Migration Profile of the Republic of Moldova. Chisinau, 2012

[3] Mariana Buciuceanu-Vrabie, Irina Pahomii “Demographic Barometer. The situation of youth in the Republic of Moldova: from challenges to opportunities”. National Institute for Economic Research, 2015

[4]  National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova. Average earnings by economic activities, years, sectors and months (2014 – 2016)

[5] Nicolaas de Zwager, Ruslan Sintov. Market Analysis: Driving Innovation in Circular Migration – Migration and Development in Moldova. IASCI, 2014

[6] Simion Ciochina “Moldovan Society – a scanty boat of migration”. Deutsche Welle. June 22, 2016

[7] The World Bank. Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population)


Natalia Pîrțac
Natalia is Licentiate in Law from Moldova University of European Studies and holds a Master’s degree in Cooperation and Development from the Institute for Advanced Study of Pavia (Italy). She has more than five years of experience in development projects implemented by local and international NGOs in the Republic of Moldova.

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