Their stories depart from the prevailing narrative about Serbia, of deserted villages and a population declining as young, educated people seek opportunities elsewhere.
This narrative is not unfounded.
Over the next decade, Serbia’s population could decrease by 6.7 percent—the steepest decline in the Western Balkans, according to a study commissioned by UNDP. Analysis of 2018 LinkedIn data by UNDP Serbia’s Accelerator Lab shows that Western European countries, the United States, and United Arab Emirates are the main destinations for Serbians working abroad, who export their skills and training in research, education, finance, engineering, medicine, dentistry, artificial intelligence, and IT.
Younger Serbians are meanwhile starting families later, accelerating depopulation.
This smaller population is meanwhile growing older and more urban. By 2030, more than half will be 45 or older. This means a smaller workforce, slower economic growth, and reduced economic competitiveness.
Serbians feel powerless to reverse these trends and pessimistic about the country’s future. Development partners typically say that the predicament is an inevitable consequence of the variation in development across Europe, and that, when the situation in Serbia improves, people will naturally, eventually come back.
But this approach is risky, because structural changes are happening now—to the demographic profile of society, the geography of where people live, and the composition of Serbia’s workforce.