Population of Hungary

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Since World War II, Hungary has exhibited several population trends that parallel those in other advanced societies. Population leveled off after the war and even began to decline. The birth rate fell, and people flocked from the countryside to the cities, especially to the major urban areas.

Historical Trends

Trianon Hungary emerged from World War I with reduced borders roughly coterminous with Hungary's present-day borders. In 1920 Hungary had about 8 million inhabitants, and by 1941 the population had grown to approximately 9.3 million. But the country lost about 5 percent of its population in World War II, so as of 1949 the population was only about 8.8 million. Thereafter, the growth rate of the population fluctuated substantially. Until the mid-1950s, high fertility and declining mortality caused rapid population growth. In 1954 the highest postwar live-birth rate was reached, at 23 births per 1,000 population. Subsequently, until the mid-1960s the birth rate declined, but the mortality rate was also low. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the birth rate again rose, partly because of demographic measures introduced by the government in 1967 and 1973. Because the overall population had begun to age, the mortality rate also increased during this period, but it was counterbalanced by the higher rate of live births.


Beginning in the late 1970s, the birth rate declined and mortality increased. By the early 1980s, Hungary's growth rate had become one of the lowest in the world. More ominously, beginning in 1981, deaths outnumbered births. Over the 1980s, population decreased absolutely after peaking at a post-World War II high of 10.7 million in 1980. Thus, the 1988 census reported that about 10.6 million people lived in the country.

In 1986 the birth rate was 12.1 per 1,000 population, up slightly from the postwar low of 11.8 per 1,000 in 1984. However, as recently as 1975 the birth rate had been 18.4 per 1,000, and in 1948 the birth rate had been 21 per 1,000. One major reason for the overall decline of the birth rate appeared to be the increasing number of highly educated and economically active women who, as in other countries, tended to have fewer children. Age appeared to play no role in the declining birth rate. In 1986 women married at an average age of 24.6 years, a figure only slightly higher than in 1948, when the average age was 24.5. In the 1980s, the typical family had only two children (reflecting a dramatic decrease from the final decades of the nineteenth century, when the average number of children per family had been five).

Overall the population of the country was aging. A growing proportion of the population was aged fifty-five or older, increasing from 19.6 percent of the population in 1960 to 24.5 percent in 1988. By contrast, in 1988 the proportion of the population under fifteen was about 21 percent, which reflected a decrease of about 4 percent since 1949 and resulted from the declining birth rate.

Marriage rates fell steadily from the mid-970s to the mid1980s. In 1975 the marriage rate was 9.9 per 1,000. By 1986 that number had declined to 6.8 per 1,000. Moreover, in 1980 for the first time, the number of marriages that ended because of death or divorce outnumbered the number of marriages that took place. In 1980 the number of "marriages ceased" because of death and divorce was 9.2 per 1,000 population. That number rose to 9.3 by 1983, then fell slightly back to 9.2 by 1986.

Death rates were relatively high, and they were rising. In 1986 the death rate was 13.8 per 1,000, as compared with 12.4 per 1,000 in 1975. In 1986 life expectancy averaged sixty-eight years, up from about sixty-six years in 1975. For women in 1986, the average life span was almost seventy-two years; for men, it was just under sixty-five years.

Settlement Patterns

In 1945 only 35 percent of the population lived in urban areas. After 1945 much of the population moved from the country's less developed counties to Budapest and later to its suburbs and to the industrial counties of Hajd-Bihar and Borsod-Abaj- Zemplen. The number of urban dwellers grew by more than 50 percent from 1949 to 1984. In 1978, for the first time in the country's history, more people lived in urban centers than in rural areas. In 1949 the population density was about 100 persons per square kilometer. By the 1980s, that figure had climbed to about 117 persons per square kilometer.

In the late 1980s, nine cities had populations greater than 100,000. Budapest, the country's focal point for government, culture, industry, trade, and transport, was by far the largest city, with 2.1 million inhabitants, or 19.2 percent of the country's population. Other major population centers were Debrecen, with 217,000 inhabitants; Miskolc, with 210,000; Szeged, with 188,000; Pecs, with 182,000; Gyr, with 131,000; Nyiregyhaza, with 119,000; Szekesfehervar, with 113,000; and Kecskemet, with 105,000. In 1988 the country had a total of 143 urban centers with more than 10,000 inhabitants, where about 62 percent of the population lived.

As of 1988, the country had 2,915 settlements with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, where 38 percent of the people made their homes. Beginning in the 1950s, the smallest villages, or those with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, tended to lose their residents. However, the number of people leaving the villages decreased every year after 1960. Whereas in 1960 about 259,000 people left the villages permanently, that number declined to about 129,000 in 1986. The number of people leaving the villages exceeded the number coming to the countryside by approximately 52,000 people in 1960. That number had declined to 37,769 in 1980 and 20,814 in 1986.

In the 1980s, a substantial number of persons of Hungarian origin lived outside the country. Many of these lived in neighboring countries. Others had moved even farther from their homeland. In the three decades before World War I, some 3 million ethnic Hungarian peasants had fled to the United States to escape rural poverty. During and after the Revolution of 1956, about 250,000 people left the country, traveling first to Austria and Yugoslavia and eventually emigrating to Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Switzerland, the United States, and West Germany. In the late 1980s, about 40 percent of all persons of Hungarian origin were living outside Hungary.

SOURCE: Library of Congress Country Studies/Area Handbook

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