Shrinking countryside, booming cities

Nearly 75 percent of Europeans live in urban areas, a number expected to reach nearly 85 percent by 2050. In a global comparison, cities in Europe are still growing slowly. Nevertheless, growing cities bring many challenges, particularly regarding housing and traffic. Where is the population in Europe still growing, and where will it decline?

The European population grew from 355 million to 447 million between 1960 and 2022, according to the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat. It is expected to decline slightly by 2100. However, the perspective of migration across national borders masks a much stronger dynamic in many places. Population trends over the last ten years in Europe show that the biggest change is happening through migration from rural to urban areas.

In 2018, more than 75 percent of Europeans lived in urban areas, according to UN Habitat. By 2040, that figure is expected to reach 80 percent, and by 2050, 85 percent.

In Western and Northern Europe, urban growth is progressing only slowly, but there are significant regional differences. In Germany, for example, most regions have seen an increase in population in recent years, with exceptions in many federal states in the east.

In Austria, on the other hand, the population grew in all regions. In Italy, there is a strong divide between the south and the north. However, in almost all countries, the capital region grew particularly strongly. Often, the surrounding areas grew just as strongly—or even more strongly—as in Hungary around Budapest. Even in countries where the population as a whole is declining, it is rising in the metropolitan regions.

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