County-Level Demographic Disparities in Romania
József Benedek, Professor at the Faculty of Geography, Babeş-Bolyai University, email@example.com
Ibolya Török, Lecturer at the Faculty of Geography, Babeş-Bolyai University
In time, the evolution of the demographic and economic processes significantly influenced the territorial spread
of the population and, implicitly, its density. This change was caused by the differentiated economic potential
between the counties, and between the locality types, which entailed a rural-urban type migration, especially
oriented toward the more industrialized and more developed cities. In this paper the demographic disparities are
analyzed in the light of the population density, urbanization rate, net migration rate, but also by determining the
vitality of the localities (considering the ratio between the young and elderly populations). By the aggregation of
these indices, and taking into account the standardized values, the demographic trajectory of each county, as well
as the disparities existing between them, can be set. Having in view the rather high stability of the selected
indices, the reference year was 2008, besides the internal migration, where the values related to the period 1990
to 2008 are taken into consideration.
Spatial Distribution of the Population
According to the last statistical data, the population density in Romania is 90.2 inhabitants/km2, with significant
differences between the counties of the country, due to the different growth of the population of each territory
along the decades, as well as to the existence of some natural limits, which do not allow a settling of a more
numerous population in certain areas. This last group includes upland counties: Caraş-Severin, Harghita, Gorj,
Covasna (40–60 inhabitants/km2), to which Tulcea is added (29.5 inhabitants/km2), comprising the widespread
areas of the Danube Delta. Because of the economic, political, social and cultural factors over the past six
decades, the population of some counties increased more than 1.5 times (Bacău, Braşov, Constanţa, Galaţi,
Hunedoara, Iaşi, Maramureş, Prahova and Suceava), a fact that also entailed an increased population density in
these zones. While in Moldavia we find the higher population pressure, nationwide the highest density can be
found, besides the country's capital, in Prahova county (173.4 inhabitants/km2), and the area with the lowest
population density is Tulcea (29.3 inhabitants/ km2), due to its unfavourable geographic position, difficult
accessibility, underdeveloped infrastructure. The population density of Prahova county is almost twice the
country average, while the Tulcea county one is more than one third beneath the average.
However, in many cases the physical density index does not accurately reflect the anthropic pressure, which
can be defined, in this context, as the result of the interaction between the dynamics of the social-economic
structures, and the natural assets of a given geographic space. Thus, the human pressure index is calculated as a
ratio between the total population and the total area, minus the lands occupied by forests and water (Ianoş 1997:
67). The value of this index varies between 61.6 inhabitants/100 hectares in Tulcea county, and 261.5
inhabitants/100 hectares in Prahova county, besides the Bucharest municipality, where this index even reaches
1,498.2 inhabitants/100 hectares. High values (over 150 inhabitants/100 hectares) can also be found in
Maramureş, Argeş, Braşov, Dâmboviţa, Ilfov counties, as well as in the majority of the Moldavian counties (with
two exceptions: Botoşani and Vaslui), which is due both to the higher natural growth rate (especially in
Moldavia and Maramureş), and to the concentration of the population in the urban areas. The lowest values of
the human pressure index (less than 75 inhabitants/100 hectare) can be found in Tulcea, Călăraşi, Ialomiţa,
Caraş-Severin, Teleorman and Harghita counties, the majority of these counties being covered by water or
forestry vegetation. The analysis of the human pressure is also important in the context of the optimal use of the
land potential, of the assessment of the population characteristics and differentiations between them, these being
the most important elements of the regional development projections.
The internal migration is also related to the territorial distribution of the population, which may bring about
significant changes in the spatial distribution of the population, as well as in relation to the population structure.
The changes of domicile are caused by multivarious factors, the economic one standing out. The migration
influences in a decisive way the economic development processes, since the first reactions of the workforce in
the case of the regional disparities are the emmigrations and immigrations (Heller and Ianoş 2004: 5).
The analysis of the migration rates during the transition period reveals that this is highly oscillating. In this
context, the year 1990 is an exception, when the internal migration balance reached 33.9%. The cause of this
massive increase of the internal migration, and first of all of the rural-urban migration flow, consists in the fact
that the restrictive regulations regarding the settling of individuals in certain cities have been repealed. The
analysis of the internal migration by locality types indicate significant differences: if until 1994 the rural-urban
migration was dominant, for a short time period (1995–1996), the rural-rural migration became more important,
and as of 1997 until this time the urban-rural migration became the main flow of the internal migration direction
Fig. 1. Evolution of internal migration between 1991 and 2008
SOURCE: The Annual Statistical Bulletin of Romania, 2010 (time series 1990–2008)
If in 1990 more than 600,000 individuals settled in the urban environment1 (691,803 individuals), while in about
5 years this figure lowered sharply, and as of 1997 a reserve trend emerged: over 150,000 individuals (158,545)
settled in the rural localities, figure which exceeds by far the number of the individuals settled in the cities
(144,034). This change, which became a trend—is well illustrated as well by the ongoing increase in the number
of individuals who returned to their natal places, reaching in 2008 even up to 200,000 individuals. Thus, if at the
beginning of the transition period the urban-rural migration transition represented only 3.5%, while the rural-
urban migration went up to 70%, at the end of the 90s the migration toward the rural environment also reached
values of 33.8%, which exceeds by far the rate of the individual who settled in the urban environment, of only
19.5%. The statistical data also indicate that, while in the beginning of 90s the migration of a significant number
of individuals contributed a great deal to the weakening of the position of the rural settlements, at the end of the
decade the increase in the number of adult population (beyond 35 years) and children who settled in the rural
environment became ever more significant. Thus, we may talk about an individual migration prior to the
communist regime change, while the family migration emerged during the transition years (Rotariu 1999: 14).
The migration toward the rural space is closely related to the reduction of jobs in urban industry of the small and
medium-sized cities. The large cities remained attractive for migration after 1989 as well, due to their tertiary
functions; thus, the internal migration balance shows positive values further on. In this context, we may talk
about two projections of the internal migration: the coerced migration, caused by the restructuring of the industry
and the higher costs of living in the city, and the welfare migration, which is especially characteristics for the
localities in the proximity of the large urban centers, where the territorial and social infrastructure are much more
A review of the county migration rates points to the fact that the largest share of individuals came from
other counties was recorded in 1990 in the most urbanized and developed counties of the country. Bucharest
ranks the first (75.5‰), followed by Timiş (56.2‰), Braşov (37.5‰), Constanţa (36.9‰), Arad (26.1‰), Sibiu
(16.2‰), Galaţi (7.9‰), Cluj (3.2‰) and Argeş (1.2‰) counties. The negative migratory balance, and at the
1 The fact must be reminded that the massive migration in 1990 is purely statistical, since actually a large part of
the 600,000 individuals who settled their domicile in cities had already live there for years.
same time the largest population losses were recorded by the Vaslui, Giurgiu, Călăraşi, Ialomiţa, Botoşani,
Teleorman counties (the population decrease varying between 40‰ and 50‰).
As of 1997, the internal migration underwent a fundamental change and, for the first time in the last four
decades, the urban-rural migration becomes dominant. This type of migration in Romania is in close connection
with the economic crisis. As of 1994, an increased internal migration balance becomes visible in relation to those
counties which, in the beginning of the 90s, recorded the highest population mobility values. Thus, if we review
the period preceding the internal migration flow change, several counties emerge where the population began to
increase based on this index. In question is Ialomiţa county, where the migration rate went up from –45.4‰ in
1990 to 1.6‰ by 1997, which means that during this time span about 35,000 individuals arrived in this territory.
Certainly, we should also take into account the exit from this area of a significant number of individuals,
especially from among the young population; however an excess of 711 individuals results from this difference
only in 1997. At the same time, in Giurgiu county the migration balance reached 1.2‰. In the Moldavian
counties, the migration balance during this time span underwent a constant decline, and has not reached any
positive values for the time being. Ilfov county has a special situation, where the -77.6‰ loss from the beginning
of the 90s, and the balance increase up to 4.6‰ may be rather explained by the speeding up of the
The internal migration reached the climax in 2008, concurrently with the increase of the rural population.
Due to the marked demographic aging and the negative natural growth rate, characteristic for the rural zones,
their population should be decreased. However, the rural population recorded a slight increase in number over
the past years, between 1997 and 2000, by 14,000 individuals (Popescu 2003: 39), due to the internal migration.
If we have in view the period 1990 to 2008, the highest population decline is characteristic for those
counties where de deindustrialization entailed the phenomenon of remigration from urban toward rural area. This
class includes counties with a significant extractive industry, such as Alba, Hunedoara, Maramureş (the
population loss by internal migration represents more than –3‰), as well as the underdeveloped counties, where
it is rather the ever more unfavourable economic and social situation that led to the population migration
(Botoşani, Olt, Teleorman, Vaslui counties, with values of over –4‰). The most significant positive values were
recorded—besides the country's capital—in Timiş, Constanţa, Ilfov, Arad counties, followed by Braşov, Cluj
and Dolj counties. There are counties which have easily adapted to the new conditions of the market economy.
In their turn, these evolutions accentuated even more existing territorial disparities, in the sense that the more
developed counties further on benefitted not only from a significant workforce inflow, but also from a significant
volume of direct foreign investments.
Disparities in Urbanization, Demographic Vitality and Demographic Potential
The economic and social changes also had direct effects on the residential environment of the population (Pénzes
2013: 373). Generally, an important role in the evolution of the urbanization index was played—besides the
economic and political factors—by the demographic behaviour of the population. Taking into account the last
statistical data, the urban population exceeds 65% only in seven counties of the country (Fig. 2): Constanţa,
Braşov, Hunedoara, Timiş, Brăila, Cluj and Sibiu, which stood out ever since the past decades by a high
development level, at the same time constituting the main destination of the internal migration. At the opposite
pole are Dâmboviţa, Giurgiu, Teleorman counties, characterized by a high degree of ruralization (the urban
population barely reaching 35%), and also by a high concentration of aged population and a low development
level as distinctive features. Even though the urban population decreased in the majority of the counties over the
past years, especially in the western and central parts of the country, that is the result of a high emigration, more
significant in the case of the national minorities. Besides that, a decrease in the natural growth rate became
conspicuous, more significantly in the urban environment, contributing to the diminution of the population in
this environment. Thus, the highest diminution of the urban population was recorded in Iaşi, Bacău, Constanţa,
Arad, Braşov, Mureş, Covasna and Harghita conties, caused by the industry restructuring. A significant increase
in the number of small towns occurred over the last years, within a rather short timeframe (2002 to 2004), when
46 rural localities became towns. The population of the new towns increased the urbanization of the entire
country by about 2%, this value representing a position similar to that of 1992, the effects of the urban-rural
migration being thus eliminated (Benedek 2006: 63). The more spectacular change can be noticed in relation to
the urbanization of certain Moldavian counties (Suceava, Botoşani, Neamţ, Vaslui). However, nationwide the
urbanization stayed at a low level.
Besides the territorial distribution of the population, we must also take into account the demographic vitality
of the localities (the ratio between the youth below 15 years old, and the elderly beyond 60 years old), which has
direct effect both on the potential workforce offer, and on the attractivity of the respective territory. The lower
the value of this index is, the more obvious the advanced demographic aging, and the existence of a diminishing
population. While the national value of the above-referred index is around 0.78, its extreme values are 0.48 and
1.09. The situation is alarming in the case of Teleorman (0.48), Giurgiu (0.62), Dolj (0.64), Brăila, Olt, Vâlcea
(0.65) counties (Fig. 2). As a matter of fact, these counties used to emit migrants some decades ago, which
gradually entailed the aging of rural population (the elderly represent more than 25% of the total population).
Besides this phenomenon there is the rather low development level of these regions, the little diversified
economic structure, conditions in which their development chances are rather reduced. In the case of Bucharest
(0.63) and Cluj (0.64), the high value of the aging index is determined first of all by the rather low proportion of
the young population, which stays about 3% below the national average. This phenomenon is typical of the more
developed areas, where the economic and social influences contribute to the gradual decrease in fertility. The
reproductive behaviour of the young couples changes in the more urbanized areas (Loriaux 1995: 1615).
Fig. 2. Human pressure, migration, urbanization and demographic vitality indices in 2007
SOURCE: authors, based on the Tempo Online data
A higher demographic vitality is characteristic for the majority of the Moldavian counties (Botoşani 0.90; Bacău
0.94; Vaslui 0.98; Suceava 1.02 and Iaşi 1.09), followed by the counties in the northern Transylvania
(Maramureş 0.94; Satu Mare 0.97 and Bistriţa-Năsăud 0.99). These counties stand out by a relative balance of
the age groups, recording higher fertility rates, due to the maintenance of the demographic model existing ever
since the past decades.
Taking into account the net migration rate, urbanization level, human pressure and demographic vitality
indices, and their standardized values, we have realised a classification of the counties by their demographic
potential. The five major classes resulted indicate the differentiated demographic behaviour of the counties (Fig.
Fig. 3. Demographic potential of counties
Thus, one category includes Teleorman, Olt, Giurgiu, Călăraşi and Buzău counties, where all the four reviewed
indices have low values. These counties are confronted with an advanced demographic aging, and a high
ruralization, which entails as well, in its turn, a massive population emigration. Even though more individuals
settled in the rural area over the last years, pursuant to a change in the internal migratory flow, this rather small
percentage could not counter balance the ongoing diminution of the population in these areas.
The second class includes several counties in Moldavia (Botoşani, Neamţ, Vaslui, Vrancea) and Muntenia
(Ialomiţa, Dâmboviţa), where the main cause of the low demographic potential is the low level of urbanization
and the negative migratory growth, in the case of certain counties even the demographic vitality index showing a
certain imbalance (Mehedinţi, Vâlcea and Sălaj). These counties are also characterized by a negative migratory
growth, which is more marked in the case of Botoşani, Vaslui and Neamţ counties.
The class of counties with an average demographic potential includes, as a rule, the counties with a low
human pressure index (Tulcea, Harghita, Caraş-Severin), the urbanization being around the national average due
to the existence of a system of localities dominated by small and medium towns (Alba, Argeş, Prahova). The
demographic aging is rather high in some counties, such as Dolj and Brăila.
The demographic potential is higher in Bihor, Cluj, Mureş and Galaţi counties, both due to the attractivity of
these counties for the investment localization and, implicitly, for the attraction of the workforce, and to a higher
development level, measured by the urbanization index (Hunedoara, Cluj, Galaţi). The counties in the Northern
Transylvania (Satu Mare, Maramureş) and Moldavia (Suceava, Bacău) stand out by a higher demographic
vitality, while both the internal migratory growth and the urban population proportion are far below the national
average (except for Maramureş county).
The last class, with the highest demographic potential, comprises eight counties, which stand out by their
higher population density, doubled by a more favourable age structure—such as in the case of Iaşi county, or by
their positive internal migration, such as in the case of Timiş, Ilfov, Constanţa counties, and Bucharest. As a rule,
in these counties all the selected indices exceed the national average, reaching the highest values in the case of
the capital and Braşov, Timiş and Constanţa counties. As a matter of fact, these counties are characterized not
only be a high development level (the urbanization reaches 60% or even more), but also by a favourable
migratory growth, especially in the case of Timiş and Constanţa counties.
Summing up, the demographic space of Romania is characterized by the existence of a north-south disparity: the
counties in the northern part of Romania have a high demographic potential, represented by a more stable
composition of the age groups, but also by a weak level of development. The demographic absorption effects
exerted by Bucharest over the neighbouring counties have contributed to the lower level of the demographic
potential in the southern part of the country.
It can be stated that in Romania the interregional demographic disparities are historically determined, and
are closely connected with the evolution of certain demographic, economic and historical elements. The existing
differences pertaining to the territorial distribution of the population result from the economic evolution
consequences, and the physical geographic particulars of the counties, while the migration led to the emergence
of multiple disadvantages evidenced by the demographic decline of some rural areas.
Benedek, J. 2006. Urban policy and urbanisation in the transition Romania. Romanian Review of Regional
Studies (Cluj-Napoca) 2 (1): 51–64.
Borzán, A. 2004. Románia népességének alakulása, 1941–2002. Területi Statisztika (Budapest) 7 (2): 164–172.
Heller, W. and Ianoş, I. 2004. Spatial patterns of economy and migration in post-socialist Romania. Europa
Regional (Leipzig) 12 (1): 4–13.
Ianoş, I. 1997. Demographic Disparities in Romania. Romanian Journal of Sociology (Bucharest) 8 (1): 65–74.
Loriaux, M. 1995. Du vieillissement démographique á l’intégration des âges: la révolution de la géritude.
Population (Paris) 50 (6): 1611–1625.
National Statistics Institute. 2010. Anuarul Statistic al României. Time series 1990–2008. <http://www.insse.ro>.
Pénzes, J. 2013. The dimensions of peripheral areas and their restructuring in Central Europe. Hungarian
Geographical Bulletin (Budapest) 62 (4): 373–386.
Popescu, Claudia. 2003. Disparităţile regionale în dezvoltarea economico-socialã a României. Bucharest:
Rotariu, T. 1999. Asupra unor aspecte ale migraţiei interne recente din România. Sociologia Românească
(Bucharest) 1(3): 5-37.
County-Level Demographic Disparities in Romania
The information related to the profile of the population of a country constitutes a good leaving point for the
understanding of several social and economic aspects. At the same time, the demographic changes, both
regionally and by residential environments, have implications on the public policies (health, education systems,
social services, transport infrastructure), and on the development potential of the entire country. The study is
concerned with the demographic disparities in Romania, focusing on the basic question of regional studies,
demography or economics as well: which are the spatial patterns of population distribution und what are the
factors determining such distribution. We use in the study a combination of different demographic indicators for
the description of regional inequalities in the spatial distribution of some demographical elements, at the level of
demographic disparities, population density, urbanization, migration, Romania