“Demography may be defined as the scientific study of the size, composition and distribution of human populations and their changes resulting from fertility, mortality and migration” (Poston, JR & Bouvier, 2010). Therefore, demography is a subject within the field of social science which is based on three demographic processes, mainly fertility, migration and mortality.

The composition of the population is based on two important demographic characteristics: age and sex. Research shows that in most countries around the world, more males than females are born; generally, the sex ratio at birth is in the region of 105 boys for every 100 girls. Conversely, when it comes to mortality, research shows that women live longer than men. Consequently, the fact that the fertility rate of boys is higher than that of girls helps to create an equilibrium in society. However, this might not always be the case.

For example, in some countries, the sex ratio at birth is distorted. It transpires that the more education a person has, the higher the chances that the person will live a longer life and the fewer children he or she will have due to a delay in childbearing. Whereas women are able to have children between the ages of 15 and 49, men are able to have children between the ages of 15 and 79.

Demographic data and basic population characteristics are collected through national censuses and surveys, among others. This year, the local National Statistics Office will carry out the Census of Population and Housing.

In total, 17 censuses were carried out in the Maltese islands between 1842 and 2020. With the last census held in 2011, this year’s census will be the 18th census in Maltese history. Normally the census is carried out once every 10 years.

The chief aim of a census is to collect information about the size, structure and arrangement of the populace. The census is carried out in almost all countries around the world.

The demographic situation of the Maltese islands

In the first census carried out in the Maltese islands in 1842, the population of the Maltese islands amounted to 114,499 inhabitants. Between the 19th century and the 21st century, the population of the islands increased dramatically, surging to 516,100 inhabitants at the end of 2020. Thus, bet­ween 1842 and 2020, the Maltese popu­lation increased by around 351 per cent.

Interestingly, in each census carried out between 1842 and 2020, the population has registered an increase in the number of inhabitants and it kept increasing uninterruptedly, except for the census carried out in 1967, which registered a decrease of -1.69 per cent in the Maltese population due to emigration, unemployment and low fertility rates.

Whereas population growth between 1900 and 1964 was a result of high birth rates, population growth during the 21st century was essentially a result of economic migration.

Due to the current low fertility rate, the population of the Maltese islands is witnessing a number of changes in relation to age composition

Due to the current low fertili­ty rate, the population of the Maltese islands is witnessing a number of changes in relation to age composition. Whereas in 1960 there were circa six young individuals for every old person in the Maltese islands, the number of elderly people has surpassed that of the young ones from 2012 onwards.

Furthermore, until 2013, the Maltese population had always consisted of more females than males but this trend changed from 2014 onwards because males outnumbered females for the first time since the first census of 1842. The latter can be attributed primarily to the increase of economic migrants in the Maltese islands.

When it comes to the number of foreigners living and working in the Maltese islands it is interesting to note that these have increased substantially between 1985 and 2018, particularly between 2013 and 2018, a period during which the population increased by 64,135 inhabitants.

The Maltese islands’ pattern of migration falls under both the classical and guest worker models because foreign nationals are being supported to work in the country by the Maltese government (particularly before the outbreak of the pandemic) and most of the migrants who come here  come for a short period of time. Beyond that, not all of them are provided with prospective citizen rights. Economic migrants are indispensable because, as a result of low fertility rates and skills mismatch among the Maltese, they fill a void in the industry (before the pandemic the latter was more evident).

Too much dependence on economic migrants

In the future, when baby boomers who were born after World War II pass away, the native population of the Maltese islands will shrink, especially considering the fact that those aged between 55 and 73 at the end of 2018 made up 22.9 per cent of the population. Therefore, if the fertility rate of the Maltese islands remains very low, foreign nationals will replace the baby boomers.

Furthermore, the fact that the fertility rate of the Maltese islands is very low is indeed worrying because we are too dependent on economic migrants when it comes to employment and essential services and there is no guarantee that economic migrants will keep coming to work in our country in the future.

Therefore, it is time to carry out an exhaustive and in-depth study to understand why Maltese and Gozitan people are choosing to have less children. It is also high time that the government  comes up with new incentives for Maltese couples and families to help them gradually increase the fertility rate.

Having said that, since the population has grown very quickly in a very short period of time due to economic migration, I also strongly believe that a scientific study on the population of the Maltese islands is still impera­tive because it would identify the carrying capacity of the country.

In the long-term, this scientific study would be vital to tackle issues such as overpopulation, lack of natural resources, environmental issues, traffic congestion and water scarcity. Sustainable population growth will eventually lead to a better quality of life for all.

Kevin Mercieca has a first degree in social policy and a master of arts in social studies. He is interested in sociological issues, particularly in issues related to population, demography and economic migration.


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