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Growing and shrinking regions in Europe

The regional picture of growing and shrinking regions in Europe shows their parallel development in nearly all countries. Only a few countries reveal homogeneous national development trends e.g. Switzerland and Norway ("growth") or Bulgaria and Hungary ("shrinking").

(August 2013)

• City regions are growing, in Eastern Europe as well
• Half of Europeans lives in shrinking regions
• Shrinking regions exist in nearly all countries

Growth and shrinkage are categorised by classifying the indicators in the bottom and top quintiles of the indicator values. If, for five to eight indicators, regions are classified in the bottom quintile, that means if they belong to the 20% of the regions at the lower end of the ranking, they are characterised by “strong shrinking”. For one to four indicators, regions can be classified as shrinking regions. The same applies to the opposite feature of “growth”. The same amount of indicators in the bottom and top quintile are classified as shrinking regions. Regions, which do not fall in the bottom or top quintile for any of the indicators, are said to be stable.

Conducted in the European context, the analysis is based on a similar study of German cities and regions. The various definitions of the European data, on which the indicators are based, however, do not allow direct comparison. Furthermore, in the European study, more weight was put on the economic and the labour market development in order to take the various impacts of the economic and financial crisis in Europe into account.

Map of Europe: Growing and shrinking regions , different indicators are considered Growing and shrinking regions in EuropeSource: BBSR Bonn

The analysis is based on eight indicators reflecting demographic and economic structures and development trends.The demographic dimension is represented by the demographic development and the migration balance. The labour market is described based on the development of persons employed, the unemployment rate and its trend. Economic aspects are reflected by the purchasing power of households, the gross domestic product and its trend.

Nearly all European countries have a more or less large number of growth regions. In Eastern Europe, they are often but not principally concentrated in and around capital regions, as shown by the case of Poland. In Spain and Portugal, growth trends can also mainly be found in capital regions. The question, whether regional shrinking tendencies in European crisis countries might provoke further concentration processes, might be raised. In France, shrinking tendencies can be found in the north and growth tendencies in the south, Greater Paris being an exception. Germany is separated into four parts with “growth regions” in the north-west, in the south, in Greater Berlin and with shrinking tendencies in a large centre.

Pie chart: Shares of growing and shrinking regions in the population, in persons employed and in the gross domestic productSource: BBSR Bonn

46% of the 516 million inhabitants of the EU 28, of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland live in growing regions, 4% of them living in strongly growing regions. With 51%, just under half of them lives in shrinking regions, 4% of them living in strongly shrinking regions. 61% of the gross domestic product of these 32 European countries is made in growing regions, 7% in strongly growing regions and 36% in shrinking regions (1% in strongly shrinking regions).

boxplot diagram: Spreading of unemployment rates  in growing and shrinking regions 2010Source: BBSR Bonn

The development tendencies of the regions are reflected by the unemployment rates. With rising growth tendency, the average unemployment rate of each group of regions is decreasing. The regional average rate in 2010 was 14.9% in stronlgy shrinking regions, 10.5% in shrinking regions, 7.7% in stable regions, 6.3% in growing regions and 4.2% in strongly growing regions. The group of shrinking regions reflects the highest unemployment rate.

Key figures of growing and shrinking regions
Demographic development
2005-2010 (in %)
Development of persons employed
2007-2011 (in %)
Average unemployment rate
Development of unemployment rate
2007-2010 (in percentage points)
Source: European Spatial Monitoring System, Eurostat REGIO

Ms Ruth Köllner, BBSR, was also involved in this analysis.

Additional Information



Volker Schmidt-Seiwert
Division I 3 - European Spatial and Urban Development
Phone: +49 228 99401-2246
Regine Binot
Division I 3 - European Spatial and Urban Development
Phone: +49 228 99401-1468

More details