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

Serbia

1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 9 June 2022

Serbiа is a country located in South East Europe (Balkan Peninsula). According to the general data from 2020, published in the Municipalities and regions of the Republic of Serbia, 2021 by The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia there are a total of 6158 settlements out of which 5823 are registered as settlements with municipality status in Serbia. The City of Belgrade is the capital of the country. The total land area is 88 499 square kilometers. The information on average population density is available only for specific regions, but not for the country as a whole. Belgrade is the region with the largest average population density with 524 inhabitants per square kilometer. The region of Southern and Eastern Serbia is the least densely inhabited area. 

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Graph 1: The estimated number of population (annual average), 2002–2020. Source: The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia

The population decline was not regionally uniform. The average natural increase (per 1000 inhabitants) in Serbia is -8%. According to the data collected in 2020, the greatest depopulation is recorded in the region of Eastern and Southern Serbia (-11.1%), then in Šumadija (-8.8%), Vojvodina (-7.5%), while -4.9% is recorded in Belgrade. 

Observed by sex, 51.3% were women (3 538 820) and 48.7% were men (3 360 306) according to The Statistical Release published by The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. The process of demographic ageing of the population ismanifested by low and steadily declining participation of young people and the high and continuously increasing share of the elderly in the total population. According to the data for the Republic of Serbia in 2020 the share of persons aged 65 and over was 21.1% and 14.3% of those under the age of 15. Age groups by the areas are visible on Graph 2.
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Graph 2: The share of the young and elderly population in total population, mid-2020 estimate. Source: The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia

In the period between 2002 and 2020 the share of persons under the age of 15 decreased from 16.1% to 14.3%, while at the same time the share of old persons (65 years and over) increased from 16,6% to 21.1%. 

By the ethnic composition 83.3% of the population are Serbs, 3.5% Hungarians, 2.1% Roma, 2% Bosniaks, 0.8% Croats, 0.7% Slovaks, 0.5% Montenegrians, 0.5 % Vlachs, 0.4% Romanians, 0.3% Yugoslavs, 0.3% Macedonians, 0.3% Muslims and around 5% other.

According to the data from 2020, published in the Municipalities and regions of the Republic of Serbia, 2021 by The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, the total number of registered employees was 2 215 475 which represents 321 employees per 1000 inhabitants. Most of them are employees at legal entities (companies, enterprises, cooperatives, institutions, and other organizations) and persons performing activities for their own account, entrepreneurs and their employees and 66 376 are registered individual agricultural producers (farmers). 

According to The Statistical Release on Labour Force Survey published by The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, the employment rate for the third quarter of 2021 amounted to 50.0%, while the unemployment rate, in the same period, had the value of 10.5%. 

When it comes to the number of immigrants, according to the data from 2020, 109 747 immigrants were living in the territory of the Republic of Serbia. 35 724 of them are economically active persons. Most of them identify themselves as Serbs (51 076), while others identify themselves with the nationality of the bordering countries (Montenegro, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Bulgaria etc.). 

According to the data from 2020, 109 747 inhabitants in total immigrated within the Republic of Serbia. The average age of persons who changed residence was 34.7 years (35.2 for men and 34.4 for women). Most of the inhabitants moved from one municipality/city to another within the same area (37.2%), and the smallest number of inhabitants moved from one settlement to another within the same municipality/city (25.7%). 

When it comes to emigration, situation is different. According to the last Census (in 2011), 3.9% of the population is located abroad. Compared to the previous Census (2002), there has been a certain decline, having in mind that at that point even 5.3% of the then population lived abroad for more than one year. Current migration is often linked to mobility of young and highly educated workforce who has been  finding the way to a better life in times of crisis and isolation in the past twenty-five years. The largest number of immigrants migrates to the EU countries and the most common destinations  within the EU are Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Sweden, Slovenia, etc. Serbia is a European country that does not belong to the single unified EU labour market so the possibilities for spatial mobility of its citizens are limited.

In Serbia, the official language is Serbian. Two scripts are in use at the same time, Cyrillic and Latin, with the primacy of the Cyrillic script. Minority languages are in equal official use at the national and provincial level if the population that speaks a language numbers more than 2% and at the level of the municipality if the participation of a group is 15% according to the last Census. In Vojvodina, which is the most diverse in terms of ethnicity, Hungarian, Slovak, Rusyn, Romanian and Croatian are in official use at the provincial level. In addition, Czech and Macedonian are in use at the municipal level. In several municipalities, as many as five languages are in official use. In the municipalities in the south of the country, Albanian is in use, as well as Bulgarian in the southeastern part. In all municipalities where a minority language is in official use, there is a possibility of organising classes at all levels of education (primary, secondary and tertiary) in their native language. At least 15 students enrolled in the first grade of a certain level of education is a required condition for organising such classes (although exceptions are possible).

According to the declaration regarding the mother tongue, 88.1% of the population declared they were Serbian, 3.4% Hungarian, 1.9% Bosnian, 1.4% Roma, 0.7% Slovakian and around 5% of them listed other languages.

The map of confessions has been changing historically in accordance with the changing of the boundaries of the country. During the Middle Ages, Eastern Orthodoxy of the Serbian Orthodox Church was the dominant confession in the area southern of the Danube river to Greece. With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, the Islamic population settles (especially in cities) while a part of local population accepts Islam. However, in this period, the dominant confession is Orthodoxy. The most significant ethnic change and the change in the map of confessions occurred during the 17th and 18th century after the Great Turkish War and the Austro-Russian-Turkish War which caused significant migrations of Serbian Orthodox population. This changed the ratio of the Orthodox people in the south of the country (in favor of Islamic confession) while the newly arrived residents in the territory of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy became significant ethnic and confessional group. With gaining the autonomy and then the establishment of the independent state of Serbia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Serbia spent one period as ethnically and confessionally homogeneous in order to (after the First World War) become a part of the state union of South Slavs characterised by ethnic and confessional diversity. After World War II and the Communist revolution, religious freedoms were reduced (in terms of freedom of religion practicing, primarily in public places), but not abolished. Confessional affiliation was an important element of ethnic identification and distance in the process of the disintegration of Yugoslavia between people who spoke the same (similar) language and had similar cultural patterns.

Currently, according to the last Census in Serbia, with regard to religious affiliation, there are 84.6% Orthodox Christians, 5% Catholics, 3.1% Muslims, 1.1% atheists, 1% Protestants, 3.1% who do not declare themselves confessionally, and about 2% other confessions.
According to the current Law on Churches and Religious Communities, which came into force in 2006, eight religious communities enjoy the legal status:

  1. Serbian Orthodox Church;
  2. Roman Catholic Church;
  3. Slovak Evangelical Church (a.c.);
  4. Christian Reformed Church;
  5. Evangelical Christian Church (a.c.);
  6. Jewish Religious Community;
  7. Islamic Religious Community;
  8. Roman Orthodox Church Dakia Felix.

The Register of Churches and religious communities included 17 other religious organisations, too:

  • Christian Adventist Church;
  • Evangelical Methodist Church;
  • Evangelical Church in Serbia;
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints;
  • Spiritual Church of Christ;
  • Church of God in Serbia;
  • Christian Nazarene Religious Community;
  • Alliance of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia;
  • Slovak Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia
  • Protestant Christian Community in Serbia;
  • Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia;
  • Free Church Belgrade;
  • Jehovah's Witnesses - Christian religious community;
  • Zion Covenant Church;
  • Union Reform Movement Seventh-day Adventist;
  • Protestant Evangelical Church "Spiritual Center";
  • Evangelical Church of Christ;
  • Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia;
  • Charismatic Community of Faith in Serbia;
  • The Buddhist religious community of Nichiren-Daishonin;
  • Christian Community “LOGOS” in Serbia;
  • Church of Golgotha in Serbia;
  • Theravada Buddhist Community in Serbia;
  • Bible Center - Good News;
  • Protestant Reformist Church of Czech community in Veliko Središte;
  • The first Roma Christian Church in Serbia;
  •  International Society for Krishna Consciousness -ISKCON;
  • New Apostolic Church in Serbia.