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ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Rural Migration in Georgia to the Urban Areas: The Myth and the Truth

Please find below a chart with the population data of the 13 Georgian real urban settlements (I.e. plus than 20,000 inhabitants).

As you can see, and contrary to widespread perceptions, there is no significant augmentation of the urban areas' population in Georgia in the last two decades or so. On the contrary, virtually all cities, excepting Tbilisi, saw a population decline, in many cases, with a 20% or more population lost (Kutaisi, Rustavi, Gori). the only exceptions are Zugdidi (certainly due to IDPs influx in the early 90's) and Batumi, that saw a boom (50% population increase) since 2009.

In the case of Tbilisi, the city is growing at high speed in the last few years, although the lost in the 90s was so high that the total population now is actually just 20% more that of 23 years ago -a very little increase compare to most capitals in the World.

These figures are hardly compatible with the common perception that there is a strong rural to urban areas migration in Georgia. Even the population growth in Tbilisi, it is likely based as much on migration for rural areas as from smaller cities such as Kutaisi or Gori.

Actually, someone might argue that the reason why statistics do no prove an  increase in urban population despite the migration to cities by the villagers is because, although lots of people is supposedly migrating from the countryside to the cities, in parallel many urbanites migrate abroad, so there is a kind of population transfer taking place.

I would not agree with such a view: In Georgia, both villagers and urbanites are prompt to migrate abroad. For instance, ethnic Armenians from the south of the country saw probably the highest migration rates in the whole of Georgia, and they are mainly from rural areas; another example case: most of the Georgians in Barcelona (30,000) are from the (extremely rural) Lentekhi district. Thus, migration to other countries cannot be use as an 'excuse' to justify the  decline of urban population despite a supposedly dramatic influx of peasants to main towns.

The idea that most rural areas in Georgia are largely abandoned (which is actually the reason why people tend to think that rural folks are all moving to cities) is based in a misconception. This is certainly the case for certain districts of the country, especially in the highlands of the North Caucasus, such as most of Racha, Khevi, etc. These are, indeed, the areas where most of the foreigners and also many Tblisians travel during holydays. But for many other regions, normally not visited by the tourists such as the density populated lowlands of West Georgia, the hills of Adjara, the overcrowded fertile lands along the Alazani river, etc. most of the villages and small towns are as populated as they have always been. And it neither true that mostly old people live in the rural settlements. Actually, the population pyramid in villages and cities in Georgia is almost the same.

These misconceptions are quite dangerous, because they perpetrate the traditional ignorance and disregard of the rural Georgia by Georgian urbanites.

Much of the fellow Georgian villagers are still  there, in numbers of several hundreds of thousands waiting for a better live, but not always that prompt to move to the cities.

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Guest - Quji on Thursday, 11 April 2013 20:18

This is interesting view. But is this chart really reliable for making such argument? Because I live in Tbilisi for about 8 years but I am registered in Zugdidi, when I am voting I am going to Zugdidi. So, I would be counted in the population of Zugdidi here.

This is interesting view. But is this chart really reliable for making such argument? Because I live in Tbilisi for about 8 years but I am registered in Zugdidi, when I am voting I am going to Zugdidi. So, I would be counted in the population of Zugdidi here.
Guest - Andy on Thursday, 11 April 2013 21:10

From a pure statistical point of view I do not agree with your results/analysis: If you aggregate the numbers of inhabitants of all the mentioned cities together, then the population in these cities altogether will be higher 2012 than 1989. This means more people live today in these cities than about 20 years ago. For reasons of clarity (I do not have a great idea about the development of Georgian population), it would be interesting to see the number of overall Georgian population in 1989 and 2012. Only then it is possible to say that today there are living (relatively) less or more people in cities than 20 years ago. I think this should be included in such an analysis before drawing important implications.

From a pure statistical point of view I do not agree with your results/analysis: If you aggregate the numbers of inhabitants of all the mentioned cities together, then the population in these cities altogether will be higher 2012 than 1989. This means more people live today in these cities than about 20 years ago. For reasons of clarity (I do not have a great idea about the development of Georgian population), it would be interesting to see the number of overall Georgian population in 1989 and 2012. Only then it is possible to say that today there are living (relatively) less or more people in cities than 20 years ago. I think this should be included in such an analysis before drawing important implications.
Guest - Nino on Thursday, 11 April 2013 21:23

Thanks for an interesting post, Juan. There are several of points I would like to make. First, population census has not been carried out since 2002 and therefore, nobody knows for sure whether these numbers are correct and moreover, we are not able to judge the population pyramids in rural areas according to these numbers. Second,there has been a general decline in Georgian population and decline in the population of Georgian cities, described here might be reflecting that. And third,one has to take into account birth rates in urban vs. rural settlements also. Usually, rural people have more children.
Of course, we should not disregard the rural population, even if (and more importantly) they are mostly children and elderly. However, these numbers are not very convincing when talking about urbanization.

Thanks for an interesting post, Juan. There are several of points I would like to make. First, population census has not been carried out since 2002 and therefore, nobody knows for sure whether these numbers are correct and moreover, we are not able to judge the population pyramids in rural areas according to these numbers. Second,there has been a general decline in Georgian population and decline in the population of Georgian cities, described here might be reflecting that. And third,one has to take into account birth rates in urban vs. rural settlements also. Usually, rural people have more children. Of course, we should not disregard the rural population, even if (and more importantly) they are mostly children and elderly. However, these numbers are not very convincing when talking about urbanization.
Guest - RT on Thursday, 11 April 2013 21:34

Juan, thanks for the post. Two points on data: 1) Administrative borders of Batumi were expanded in 2011 (?) to include some of the neighboring villages and that may explain a 50% increase. 2) I believe quite a few of those who have migrated abroad still count as residents. Hence, population of cities may be disproportionately (compared to rural areas) overstated.

Juan, thanks for the post. Two points on data: 1) Administrative borders of Batumi were expanded in 2011 (?) to include some of the neighboring villages and that may explain a 50% increase. 2) I believe quite a few of those who have migrated abroad still count as residents. Hence, population of cities may be disproportionately (compared to rural areas) overstated.
Guest - RT on Thursday, 11 April 2013 22:44

that may _partly_ explain a 50% increase

that may _partly_ explain a 50% increase
Guest - Juan Echanove on Thursday, 11 April 2013 21:40

Thanks Robertfor these hints, which are actually confirming further the idea that village-to-city migration is not enormously significant. The inclusion of nearby village in Batuni distric means that actually a certain proportion of the increase is not actually an incrase on urban populaiton in there. SAtually, you ar epoint out an interesting issue, which is that within the official figures for cities, there are actrually villages that are part of the district where the urban settlement is located. Them as you seid, urban populaiton is more overestimated in census that rural population.

Thanks Robertfor these hints, which are actually confirming further the idea that village-to-city migration is not enormously significant. The inclusion of nearby village in Batuni distric means that actually a certain proportion of the increase is not actually an incrase on urban populaiton in there. SAtually, you ar epoint out an interesting issue, which is that within the official figures for cities, there are actrually villages that are part of the district where the urban settlement is located. Them as you seid, urban populaiton is more overestimated in census that rural population.
Guest - Andy on Friday, 12 April 2013 00:53

Well, is this the way how ISET is handling open critiques on their website: just deleting critical comments?

Well, is this the way how ISET is handling open critiques on their website: just deleting critical comments?
Guest - Andy on Friday, 12 April 2013 01:41

Ups, sorry, I just realised that the comments have been posted. Sorry that for! ;)

Ups, sorry, I just realised that the comments have been posted. Sorry that for! ;)
Guest - Hans Gutbrod on Friday, 12 April 2013 19:08

you may want to look through some CRRC data on this, and/or ask Koba. In my recollection, 10-15% of the Georgian urban population indeed are not living where they are registered, and these are mostly people from the countryside who have moved to the cities. They nevertheless often retain legal status in their home village, for all sorts of reasons, perhaps also because they believe that it more easily links to land titles and inheritance.

It is unclear to which extent the census manages to capture these issues (note that typically non-Western censuses are insufficiently funded to deliver entirely accurate results).

So there is an interesting story there, that could be unpacked further...

you may want to look through some CRRC data on this, and/or ask Koba. In my recollection, 10-15% of the Georgian urban population indeed are not living where they are registered, and these are mostly people from the countryside who have moved to the cities. They nevertheless often retain legal status in their home village, for all sorts of reasons, perhaps also because they believe that it more easily links to land titles and inheritance. It is unclear to which extent the census manages to capture these issues (note that typically non-Western censuses are insufficiently funded to deliver entirely accurate results). So there is an interesting story there, that could be unpacked further...
Guest - Simon Appleby on Saturday, 13 April 2013 14:37

Tbilisi government published a study
( http://www.scribd.com/doc/60932987/Tbilisi-City-Profile) showing that there were 524,000 men and 628,000 women in Tbilisi in 2010; roughly 1.2 women for every man. The methodology is not mentioned. The 2002 population pyramid showed a significantly greater proportion of women of working age in Tbilisi than men, so it is not solely due to men dying earlier. (see page 14)

It will be interesting to see more recent data, but it suggests that Tbilisi is like most other cities in the world; it attracts women from the countryside to work in urban service industries or light industrial manufacturing, while a larger proportion of rural males stay at home.

Tbilisi government published a study ( http://www.scribd.com/doc/60932987/Tbilisi-City-Profile) showing that there were 524,000 men and 628,000 women in Tbilisi in 2010; roughly 1.2 women for every man. The methodology is not mentioned. The 2002 population pyramid showed a significantly greater proportion of women of working age in Tbilisi than men, so it is not solely due to men dying earlier. (see page 14) It will be interesting to see more recent data, but it suggests that Tbilisi is like most other cities in the world; it attracts women from the countryside to work in urban service industries or light industrial manufacturing, while a larger proportion of rural males stay at home.
Guest - Till Bruckner on Sunday, 14 April 2013 17:59


A really interesting post, thank you. I think that one major point is being missed: the overall decline in population of Georgia since independence. Georgia had one of the highest outmigration rates in the world during the 1990s, plus birth rates that were and are far below the level required to maintain the population constant. So, as far as I understand it - and I'm no demographer - if the urban population has remained more or less constant, despite an overall decline, there must be a LOT less people living in rural areas now than there were 30, 20 or 10 years ago. 



(For example, ten years ago, people living in Kutaisi told me that many Kutaisi natives had moved to Tbilisi or abroad, and that the same time many villagers from across the Imereti region had moved into the town - so many current Kutaisi residents were 'villagers'.)



Regarding age structure in rural areas, I don't know if suitable statistics exists, but it might be interesting to look at school pupils' numbers in urban versus rural areas. Or pensioner numbers rural versus urban.



Again, thanks for the post, looking forward to more reading more of your data and analysis on this topic!

A really interesting post, thank you. I think that one major point is being missed: the overall decline in population of Georgia since independence. Georgia had one of the highest outmigration rates in the world during the 1990s, plus birth rates that were and are far below the level required to maintain the population constant. So, as far as I understand it - and I'm no demographer - if the urban population has remained more or less constant, despite an overall decline, there must be a LOT less people living in rural areas now than there were 30, 20 or 10 years ago.  (For example, ten years ago, people living in Kutaisi told me that many Kutaisi natives had moved to Tbilisi or abroad, and that the same time many villagers from across the Imereti region had moved into the town - so many current Kutaisi residents were 'villagers'.) Regarding age structure in rural areas, I don't know if suitable statistics exists, but it might be interesting to look at school pupils' numbers in urban versus rural areas. Or pensioner numbers rural versus urban. Again, thanks for the post, looking forward to more reading more of your data and analysis on this topic!
Guest - William Cartier on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 13:06

I should note that in the case of Batumi, the "growth" is quite artificial. In 2012 Batumi extended its official boundaries, incorporating land (and population) from neighboring municipalities. Thus, the only exception noted in the discussion actually doesn't go against the general trend.

I should note that in the case of Batumi, the "growth" is quite artificial. In 2012 Batumi extended its official boundaries, incorporating land (and population) from neighboring municipalities. Thus, the only exception noted in the discussion actually doesn't go against the general trend.
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