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Yugoslavia: Population
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Geography and Population > Population


Yugoslavia's resident population was estimated at 23.4 million people in 1987, up from 15.7 million in 1948 and 22.4 million in 1981. In addition, over a million Yugoslavs lived and worked for long periods of time in other European countries. The country's population density grew from 62 persons per square kilometer in 1948 to 92 per square kilometer in 1988.

Between 1961 and 1981, Yugoslavia's annual population growth (.95 percent) was about the same as that of the world's developed countries. The population growth rate in Yugoslavia's economically less-developed regions, however, was significantly higher than that in the developed regions. For example, in 1986 the respective annual growth rates of Kosovo and Macedonia were 2.51 percent and 1.53 percent. By comparison, the respective rates in industrialized Vojvodina and Slovenia were only 0.46 percent and 0.87 percent. The annual growth rate of the country's working-age population was 1.25 percent, indicating that an increasing proportion of that group was found in the less developed regions.

The average age of Yugoslavia's population in 1986 was 33.9 years. Men averaged 32.6 years of age; women, 35.1. The average age of the Yugoslav population increased over the last half century because the birth rate declined and life expectancy increased over that period, and Croatia were in demographic old age; those in Montenegro and Slovenia were on the threshold of demographic old age; those in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia had reached demographic maturity; the population of Kosovo, however, was still in demographic youth.

Life expectancy began to increase in 1918, lengthening from about 35 years to 68.4 years for men and 73.8 years for women. After World War II, the mortality rate in Yugoslavia declined precipitously. In 1984 the country had a mortality rate of about 9.3 per thousand, down from 12.8 per thousand in 1948. In Kosovo the mortality rate dropped from 13 per thousand in 1947 to 5.8 in 1984, while in Slovenia it dropped from 13.5 to 10.9 per thousand.

Yugoslavia's infant mortality rate, a key indicator of a population's social, economic, health care, and cultural levels, dropped from 118.6 infant deaths per thousand births in 1950 to 26.2 per thousand in 1987. The share of infant deaths in Yugoslavia's overall death totals dropped from about 25 percent in the early 1950s to only 4.3 percent in 1987. In 1987 Vojvodina (12.3 infant deaths per thousand births), Slovenia (13.0), and Croatia (13.7) reported Yugoslavia's lowest infant mortality rates, while Kosovo (55.2) and Macedonia (45.3) reported the highest. In spite of higher living standards and health care, however, in 1985 Yugoslavia's infant mortality rate ranked only above Albania among European countries.

In Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, and Serbia proper, birth rates declined together with the mortality rate. But in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro, a rapid drop in the birth rate came only after 1960, while Kosovo's birth rate dropped only slightly through 1990. By 1980 the population explosion among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians had become Yugoslavia's most pressing demographic problem. Between 1950 and 1983, the population of Kosovo grew by about 220 percent, while the Yugoslav total increased by only 39 percent. Kosovo's high annual birth rate (about 29 births per thousand in 1988, the highest in Europe), and the increased life expectancy of the population spurred this demographic growth. Although Kosovo's birth rate declined somewhat during the 1980s, the absolute number of births increased while the mortality rate declined. By 1980 Kosovo had become the most densely populated part of Yugoslavia (146 persons per square kilometer), although it remained the country's least-developed region.

In the mid-1960s, the government began actively supporting family planning practices to control population growth. In 1969 the Federal Assembly (Skupstina) passed a liberalized abortion law. At the same time, the government passed a resolution on family planning that urged expansion of free programs in family planning and modern contraceptive techniques. The resolution also emphasized the role of the social services and other national institutions in sex education and planned parenthood. After 1969 the obvious failure of family planning in Kosovo produced calls for greater dissemination of birth control information and devices and establishment of family planning counseling services. The winning party in Croatia's 1990 republican elections, however, ran on a platform that called for banning abortion. The party's victory raised the possibility of antiabortion legislation in that republic.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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