What We Think
July 2, 2020
Chart of the Week (27) - Malta's Population
Population growth has in recent years taken center stage in the political and economic discourse of Malta’s development. With an average growth rate of 3% per annum, latest figures published by Eurostat, show that Malta’s population has grown by more than 64,000 or 15% over the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, and now stands at almost half a million people.
By way of providing some context to this ongoing debate, the Maltese economy has been among the strongest performing economies in the Eurozone. Malta however remains inherently limited in scale, and despite investment in human capital, supporting services and infrastructure over the past decades, growth in certain sectors has outperformed these developments. This eventual transformation of the Maltese economy has led to a growing demand for labour and skills which were locally in shortage or not available altogether and thus had to be sourced abroad.
According to this latest release, which reports on population numbers as at 1st January 2019, there are now more than 83,000 non-nationals living in Malta, which is equivalent to 17% of the total population size. With this result, Malta has the third highest share of non-nationals in the resident population when compared to the other EU27 member states, following Luxembourg which has a staggering 47% of its population which are non-nationals and Cyprus which has 18%.
The split between EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in Malta is almost even, albeit this was not always the case. The population growth rate for EU citizens living in Malta had been increasing at a steady pace during the period between 2014 and 2018 but dropped by 10 percentage points in 2019. Growth rates for non-EU citizens, on the other hand, have been rather unpredictable, picking up significantly since 2017, following a declining trend in the previous two years. Growth rates of non-EU citizens living in Malta has since 2019 outpaced growth levels of EU citizens moving to Malta. Natural population growth has remained relatively flat during the reference period, growing on average by 0.5% each year.
Reconciling these results with statistics published by Jobsplus for 2018 shows that the majority of non-Maltese nationals living in Malta are in employment and filling some very important gaps across the whole spectrum of the labour market, including professional services, gaming, tourism and health.
Besides boosting labour market supply, non-Maltese nationals are also seen to be an important source of economic activity for the retail, restaurant and entertainment sectors, as well as leading to a buoyant housing market. A growing population, especially for a country the size of Malta however also presents a number of socio-economic implications relating, amongst others, to infrastructure capacity, increasing house rents, environmental burdens and pressures on the education system which has to cater for an additional 9,000 children of expat families now living in Malta.
The debate on population growth will therefore not subside any time soon. The country will however do well to chart a renewed national vision that looks beyond economic well-being and focuses more on the holistic vision of growth, development and societal well-being that would be both sustainable and resilient to future economic shocks.