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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Population: demographic situation, languages and religions


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 17 June 2022

Latvia is situated in the northern Europe on the east coast of the Baltic Sea and borders with the two other Baltic countries, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as with Russia and Belarus. The territory covers 64,600 sq. km, the length of its border on land is 1 862 km, and its sea boarder is 494 km long. At the beginning of 2019 population of Latvia accounted for 1 million 920 thousand people. 

The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia has released a video encapsulating some of the critical figures.

Demographic situation

Provisional data of the Central Statistical Bureau show that 18 589 births were registered in 2019, which is 725 births fewer than in 2018. The number of children born in 2019 will be specified in May by adding children born abroad. During the last two years 463 children were born abroad (202 in 2018 and 261 in 2017).

The age distribution of the population in percentage

 Males total %Females total %Years 0-14 malesYears 0-14 femalesYears 15-64 malesYears 15-64 femalesYears 65+ malesYears 65+ females
2000 46.153.919.916.369.865.010.318.7
2005 45.954.116.713.571.565.711.820.8
2018 46.153.917.814.367.760.514.525.2

Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

Rates of employment and unemployment

Population, years 15-64200020052018
Active population67.269.177.7
Inactive population32.830.922.3

Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

Immigration and migration flows

 ImmigrationEmigrationNet migration
20006 48322 911 -16 428
20056 69117 643 -10 952
201810 90915 814 -4 905

Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

The overall decrease of population and birth rate has led to significant decline in number of pupils and students. This has started the process of closure and reorganisation of especially rural schools. 

Today the larger part of Latvian population, i.e. slightly more than one and a half million inhabitants resides in city areas. The proportion of country and city dwellers has remained practically unchanged during the last ten years.  Latvian cities and towns differ greatly in size. 15 cities have a population of over 10 000, the largest of these being Rīga, Daugavpils, and Liepāja. However the smallest Latvian towns are Durbe, Subate and Pāvilosta.

High population concentration in the capital is observed. It may be attributed to the lack of workplaces elsewhere in Latvia, especially in the countryside, and majority of students stay in the capital instead of returning to native town.

The massive migration from Russia and other Soviet Socialist Republics (Belarus, Ukraine, etc.) during the Soviet years substantially changed the ethnic composition of Latvia. The total number of Latvians declined from 77% of all residents in 1935 to 52% in 1989. Even during the last years before the collapse of the Soviet Union there was large-scale immigration to Latvia.

After the renewed independence of Latvia, the process of immigration was again regulated by state law, government regulations and state institutions; thus, immigration rapidly slowed down. 215,000 people emigrated from Latvia in the 1990s. The number of Latvians in the population decreased by 16,000 during this period, but the number of non-Latvians decreased by 199,000.

During recent years, the number of immigrants augments each year while those emigrating are by 1000 more on the average. In 2005, long-term international immigration to Latvia changed compared with 2003 – from 1364 to 1886; up by 38%. After joining the European Union, an increasing emigration in comparison to the previous years was observed in 2004 and 2005 due to higher numbers of inhabitants moving to other European countries for work. Long-term emigration abroad increased vastly - from 2210 in 2003 to 25 200 in 2012.

The average life expectancy for newborns in 2016 was 74.8 years. The average life expectancy of men is lower than that of women in all countries; however, in Latvia the difference is particularly large. During the last ten years, the average life expectancy of male newborns has been constantly at least 10 years less than that of female neonates (in 2016, 69.8 and 79.4, respectively). The situation is aggravated by such unfavourable factors as alcoholism and unnatural death. 

The average life expectancy also has territorial characteristics: in rural areas the life expectancy of both genders is lower than in urban areas - by three years for women and up to a year and a half for men. In part, these differences can be explained by the overall unfavourable social situation in countryside as well as the lower level and more complicated accessibility of medical assistance. To improve the life expectancy the national policy gets more focused on issues of health promotion and the quality of life.

Latvians (and Livs) are the indigenous people of Latvia, but there are many other ethnic groups living in Latvia, of which Russian minority is the largest one. In the beginning of 2017, the ethnic distribution of Latvia’s population was 62 % Latvians, 25.4 % Russians, 3.3 % Belorussians, 2.2 % Ukrainians, 2.1 % Poles, 5% other ethnicities (Lithuanians, Jews, Roma, Germans, Estonians, Tatars, and others).  Actually, the total number of national minorities is not particularly large in Latvia, and each minority group (except Russians) is relatively small. The most active ethnic communities in Latvia are Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and Roma. People of foreign descent mainly live in the seven major cities of Latvia: Rīga, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Ventspils, and Rēzekne.


Latvian is the official language in Latvia, states the Constitution (Satversme) and the Official Language Law passed in 1989. The Latvian language belongs to the Baltic group of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest and only living relative is Lithuanian. On the other hand, the recent gene research studies reveal that genetically Latvians are closer relatives to Finns and Estonians. Latvia is divided into four historic regions – Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale and Latgale (though these regions are not used as sub-national governmental jurisdictions). Inhabitants of Latgale speak Latgalian language.

According to the Official Language Law (Section 3 and 4), the state ensures the development and use of the Latvian sign language for communication with people with impaired hearing. The state ensures also the maintenance, protection and development of the Liv language as the language of the indigenous (autochthon) population. The most common minority language is Russian, as there are many Russian-speaking people in Latvia, not only Russians, who constitute the second largest population group (after Latvians).

The official language of instruction in public sector educational institutions is Latvian. However, ethnic minority education is one of the core issues due to ethnic composition of population and education is provided in other languages as well, namely Russian, Estonian, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Byelorussian and Roma.

In March 2018 the Parliament approved amendments to the Education Law and the Law on General Education under which education programmes of ethnic minorities will start gradual transition to Latvian-only upper-secondary education in the 2021/2022 school year. A new bilingual education model will be introduced in grades 1-6 of ethnic minority education programmes, ensuring that at least 50% of the education content is taught in Latvian, and in grades 7-9, ensuring that at least 80% of the education content, including foreign languages, is in Latvian, and the transition will start in 2020/2021. Starting from 2022/2023 school year all general education subjects in upper-secondary programmes (grades 10-12) will be taught only in the Latvian language (excluding foreign languages), while children of ethnic minorities will continue learning their language, literature and subjects related to culture and history in the respective ethnic minority language.


The Constitution of Latvia (Satversme) declares that the church is separated from the state, and everybody has the right to freedom of religion.

Historically, since the Protestant Reformation movement in the 16th century, the Lutheran church has played a leading role in Latvia. The Reformation brought about great change in the Baltic Region of Europe, with impact on education and language. A rise in education and literacy was in part a result in the printing of books in local languages. However, also Catholicism with the Jesuit order had an impact of spreading education. Today, there are around 25 religious confessions in Latvia, of which Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholicand Russian Orthodoxare the largest ones. Churches and religious organizations are free to preach their doctrines and to perform rituals. The preaching of the doctrines of the churches and religious organizations and other ritual activities, as well as the places of worship may not be exploited for purposes contrary to the Constitution and laws.

In Soviet times the churches were oppressed in the Baltic states. Many priests were deported to Siberia and churches were declared state property. The teaching of religion was banned, persecuted and punished. Extensive atheist propaganda was developed by means of literature, press, radio, television, theatre and cinema. Together with the nation's movement of independence came a "spiritual renaissance". Many priests took an active part in the movement of national liberation. The reinstated state returned the deprived buildings and property to churches, and assigned the force of law to marriages established in the church.

Today the teaching of religion as an optional subject alongside with ethics has been restored in public schools. Instruction in these schools is organized according to the programmes confirmed by the State Education Centre. Pupils are free to choose to study this subject, according to wish of parents or guardians. Christian instruction and the study of ethics are financed from the state budget.