Demography is the statistical study of populations. The size of a population, as well as its age structure, at any given point help tell the story of a nation; its ups and downs, and its triumphs and traumas. It also helps us know if and when we should be concerned.
The population pyramid shown in Figure 1 displays the structure of the population of Armenia in 1989 by gender and age. In a stable population with constant birth and death rates and no migration, one would expect to see a smoother progression as each older age group represents slightly less of the total population than the next younger group. The uneven pattern depicted instead shows the impact of historical events on the population.
One can surmise that the lower proportion of those aged 40-49 could be a result of less births during and immediately following World War II. The impact though goes further than that as the lower births from 1940 to 1949 also led to lower births 25 to 40 years later. In essence, the lower births from 1940-49 led to less adults in the age groups when families are formed between 1965-80 and thus ultimately led to a lower proportion aged 10 to 25 in 1989.
The pyramid in Figure 2 shows the marked changes in the age structure of Armenia after only 10 years of independence. First, we see that the effects from lower births during and following WWII are still felt in births two generations later. But it is more than that. As those in the prime years of family formation participated in the Artsakh war or immigrated in the years after for economic reasons, one can easily see the precipitous drop in those under the age of five and can imagine what impact this will have in the formation of families after 2020.
The decline in Armenia’s population since gaining independence and the subsequent three decades is nothing short of a crisis. Without significant changes, the process already set in motion will lead to further declines in the population.
The pyramid in Figure 3 is for 2011. The sharp drop in births seen in 2001 has continued for another decade. In addition, the births are heavily weighted toward male children (15% more males than females). One can easily understand the additional strain this will cause by 2030 in family formations.
Diasporan communities being formed today, who are prospering in their host nations, offers no guarantees of repatriation to Armenia, or even of having close ties with a country their parents chose to leave.
The first 30 years of independence set in motion a demographic crisis so deep and lasting that it is unclear whether anything can be done today to rectify it. The resulting national security issues for Armenia are so serious as to jeopardize the viability of the country for the next 30 years.
Figure 4 depicts the projected population pyramid in 2041, less than 25 years from now. in hard terms, the population of Armenia will conservatively be reduced by another 20% or more.
The only way to reverse the damaging trends is to promote larger families and a return of those who have most recently left the country. A large influx of Armenians from other countries, for example Syria, can also make a difference.
For the past 20 years, one can easily compare the social, economic and political life in Armenia to western Armenians in the late Ottoman period. Often 30 percent or more of the men of a village were elsewhere working at any particular moment. Presumably to increase the likelihood of the men returning to their family and village, these men would marry and often have children prior to leaving for work. A pregnant wife, a child never scene, were strong incentives indeed. In addition, the age difference between husband and wife often led to children being born to men over the age of 50.
It is easy to speak of these things in detached mathematical terms. It is much harder to change the reality on the ground—for one, the end of corruption and offering incentives for economic expansion.
But what is truly needed is a revolution in how we view Armenia and how Armenia views itself. Some will point to the political events of this year as a positive sign, but it is only a beginning and the hard work begins today.