How Georgia Defied the Demographic Decline: The Power of Trust and Economic Growth

5 mins read
July 21, 2023
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In 2014, Georgia’s population stood at 3.71 million. Fast-forward to 2022, and you’d see a seemingly inconsequential decline to 3.68 million. But roll back the clock to the tumultuous 1990s. You’re hit with a stark reality: Georgia’s population once soared beyond 5 million, even as the country grappled with the chaos following the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

How did a nation marred by Kremlin-perpetuated conflicts and internal strife sustain such a significant populace during its “darkest times”? Even by the close of the millennium, Georgia boasted over 4 million souls. Today’s Georgians reflect on that era with a mix of pain and pride; At the same time, it was a period of sacrifice. A majority (54%, according to the CRRC survey) believe it set the stage for a brighter, more prosperous future.

But here’s the kicker: Europe, the continent celebrated as a bastion of stability and prosperity, is experiencing a baby bust. According to Eurostat, Europe’s fertility rate in 2021 lingered at a paltry 1.53. Eastern Europe paints an even bleaker picture. The giants of the region – Russia, Poland, and Ukraine – report fertility rates of 1.51, 1.46, and 1.27, respectively. Their neighbours, like Estonia and Latvia, fare only marginally better.

Enter Georgia. This tiny nation defies the trend, maintaining a fertility rate that hasn’t dropped below two since 2013. The most intriguing part? The 1990s, despite its larger population, saw much lower fertility rates, bottoming out at 1.6 in 2000. By 2013, the figure surged to 2.3.

So, the puzzle begs a solution: How did Georgia, with its tumultuous post-independence journey, manage to sustain – and even boost – its fertility rate? The narrative of Georgia is not just about numbers but about resilience, adaptation, and the tenacious spirit of its people.

Georgia’s Unexpected Demographic Boon: A Product of its Economic Resurgence

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Photo by Denis Arslanbekov / Unsplash

Georgia’s demographic tale after the millennium is one of contrast, transformation, and stark defiance against the grain of Central Europe’s dwindling fertility tales. So, what’s driving the Georgian demographic anomaly?

Let’s start with the Rose Revolution in 2003. This pivotal moment was the spark that would ignite Georgia’s rapid ascendancy. Reform wasn’t just a word; it was action. Within a few transformative years, Georgia wasn’t only shaking off the shackles of corruption. Still, it was hurtling towards an era of economic vitality. By the decade’s close, the nation catapulted to the 11th spot in the Doing Business rankings, an impressive leap of five positions from 2009.

Now, let’s talk numbers: Georgia’s appearance on Transparency International’s corruption perception index was a telling sign. From being unranked in 2000, Georgia took the 73rd spot in 2010. But the most resounding evidence of Georgia’s resurgence was its soaring GDP. With a staggering 11% growth in 2003, 12.6% in 2007, and 7.4% in 2011, Georgia was a nation reborn. The average Georgian was feeling the effects. Their monthly wages skyrocketed tenfold from 2000 to 2012, and the GDP per capita leapt from $750 to a remarkable $4.4K by 2012’s close.

One might think these are just numbers, but they painted a reality. As the nation’s coffers swelled with tax revenue tripling from 7% of the GDP in 2003 to 24% in 2012, so did its demographic confidence. No longer haunted by the shadows of the 1990s and early 2000s, Georgians were increasingly looking towards a brighter, more prosperous future.

The quintessential question: Can economic vitality truly fuel fertility? A study titled “The Demographic Transition and Economic Growth: Implications for Development Policy” offered some insights. Their findings suggested an intricate dance between economic growth, fertility rate, and child mortality. It’s not a direct push-and-pull but a cycle where change affects child mortality, impacting fertility rates. In Georgia’s context, the narrative was straightforward: economic growth slashed infant mortality rates from 32 per 1000 births in 2000 to just 11 by 2012. Mirroring this drop was a rise in fertility rates, with Georgia outshining Eastern European averages.

Georgia’s Social Spending Saga: A Tale of Two Decades

From the bustling streets of Tbilisi to the shores of Adjaria, Georgia’s demographic story has been punctuated by government initiatives, regional attempts, and the ever-daunting challenges of young people seeking greener pastures.

2003-2012: The Decade of Demographic Realization

Post-Rose Revolution, the Georgian government did not merely coast on its economic successes; it aimed to understand its demographic underpinnings better. 2003 marked President Eduard Sehvardnadze’s decree on Georgia’s demographic challenges, laying the groundwork for future strategies. The data painted a roller-coaster picture: high Total Fertility Rates (TFR) juxtaposed with a concerning decline in fertility due to emigration, often young individuals seeking a better life abroad. In the whirlwind of changing birth rates throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Georgia saw its birth and fertility rates oscillate like a seesaw.

Interestingly, regions like Adjaria began making headlines. With a newborn under its infertility aid program and a fertility rate that’s a force to be reckoned with, Adjaria stood out in 2022. The region witnessed the birth of 5,267 babies, only shadowed by the capital city, Tbilisi, with its 14,000+ newborns. Yet, it wasn’t just about deliveries. The 2011 budgetary report showed an allocation of over 1.58 billion GEL (around 900 million USD) to grapple with the demographic decline.

2013-2023: A Renewed Focus on Social Well-being

The winds of change blew once more post the 2012 parliamentary elections. Georgia’s new leadership took the mantle of the country’s demographic dilemma, devising strategies to improve population dynamics. The parliament rolled out the “Concept for Georgia’s Demographic Security” to combat the twin challenges of emigration and falling TFR. 2017’s health report echoed a dichotomy: while live births touched 53,293, TFR witnessed a slight drop.

However, it was the initiatives directed at the youth that stood out. From introducing monthly assistance of 200 GEL for underprivileged children under 16 to a whopping 2,000 GEL maternity assistance in 2023, the focus was clear – safeguarding the future. Ministries overseeing health, education, and internal affairs saw budget spikes and covering medical expenses for expecting mothers became a priority.

Yet, numbers can sometimes paint a sobering reality. By 2022, live births plummeted to 42,319, a significant dip from 59,000+ in 2015. But one can’t ignore the silver lining: Georgia still boasts a higher TFR than most Eastern European nations, primarily due to its economic upswing.

Georgia’s Demographic Trump Card: Trust in the Patriarchate

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Photo by mostafa meraji / Unsplash

Delve into the pulsating heart of Georgia, and you’ll find that amidst its rustic vineyards and ancient monasteries lies a demographic tale not told in the lecture halls of Harvard or on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Where Religion Meets Trust

Nowadays, religion doesn’t quite carry the demographic clout one might assume. The move barely registered when Pope Francis urged Italians to boost their birth rates. Iran, Russia, and the U.S. – religious leaders have cried out, but their voices often dissipate into the void.

Enter the Georgian Orthodox Church, a powerhouse not just of faith but of trust. This isn’t just about a religious edict; it’s about the unwavering confidence Georgians have in their Orthodox institution. To witness this spectacle, one must experience the Tsachkhuroba festival in the village of Tsachkhuri. With hope in their eyes and tiny cradles, childless couples arrive by the thousands, clinging to prayer and the church’s blessings.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Patriarch Ilia the Second isn’t just another religious figurehead. He’s the equivalent of a demographic rockstar in Georgia. A recent survey highlighted his staggering approval rate of 92%. For context, Tbilisi’s mayor, Kakha Kaladze, has a favorability rate of just 53%. The nation’s president? It barely scrapes by with 52%. Ilia’s announcement in 2008 that he’d personally baptize every third child was less a religious statement and more of a demographic masterstroke. Fast forward to 2022, and over 45,000 children have been baptized, which isn’t just symbolic but statistically significant.

Between 2008 and 2022, the birth of third children almost doubled, while first and second children numbers stagnated. This is no coincidence; this is the power of trust, charisma, and influence.

The Georgian Demographic Puzzle

While Eastern Europe grapples with dwindling birth rates, Georgia stands defiant, a beacon of demographic resilience. Two key components make up this resilience:

Economic growth and support – Money matters. Georgia’s economic surge and increased social spending provide the proper support for growing families.

The Ilia Effect – Underpinning it all is the immense trust in the Georgian Orthodox Church, particularly in Patriarch Ilia the Second. His baptism initiative has directly influenced the birth rates, making him, perhaps, the most influential demographic player in the region.

So, while the rest of the world scratches its heads, trying to decode the mysteries of birth rates, Georgia has its answer – it’s not just about faith, but the trust that powers it.

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