Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe, neighboring Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south and the Black Sea to the east. The country has been a member of NATO since 2004 and the EU since 2007. After its transition from Soviet control, it has sought to deepen its ties with the West. Bulgaria has improved a lot in its post-communist period from 1990 up to today, yet it still ranks near the bottom of EU lists on life expectancy, income per capita and several other areas. These are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria you should know.
Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bulgaria
- Rural regions are underdeveloped – There is a disparity between rural and urban populations with poverty being prevalent among the former. A lot of people live in cities, the urban population is 74.6 percent because rural regions in the country are very underdeveloped. Nearly two-thirds of poor Bulgarians live in the country and rely on agriculture for jobs. Nearly 26 percent of the workforce in rural areas is above working age, compared to 17 percent in urban areas.
- Life expectancy is low – Life expectancy at birth has increased, but it still remains below the European average by almost 6 years, partially due to the high maternal mortality rate. Bulgaria takes the second to last place with its life expectancy of 74.7 years.
- The population is aging – Even though life expectancy is rising, birthrates are low, and Bulgaria’s population is aging along with other European countries. Bulgaria is one of six EU countries where the proportion of people over 65 years old has passed the 20 percent mark. Most elderly live in remote rural areas where access is very limited. They rely solely on pensions that do not meet their needs. More than half of these pensioners live below the poverty line.
- There is a lot of emigration – The aging population is one of the reasons for the 12 percent decline in the overall population of Bulgaria from 1990 to 2012. Another reason is emigration, which leads to lower productivity. Factors such as the low income per capita, high unemployment and income inequality push Bulgarians to move to Western countries, resulting in a brain drain.
- The transport system is in a good shape – Even though intercity roads are not in top condition, there have been improvements in the transportation system. Large urban areas are connected by public transport networks, and Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, has been continually extending the subway line to connect different parts of the city. Bulgaria is accessible by land, water and air with the Danube river being a transport channel used for commercial purposes.
- It is not expensive to live in Bulgaria – Even though the median wage in Bulgaria is significantly lower than other EU member states, the cost of living is low. Sofia ranks 92 out of 105 countries in terms of cost of living. But, to counter that, the minimum wage is roughly 260 euros per month, which is amongst the lowest of the EU member states. Households in Bulgaria have only about half of the purchasing power of other EU countries.
- The economy is growing despite doing so slowly. The GDP during the second quarter of 2018 increased by 3.4 percent compared to the same quarter in 2017, according to the National Statistical Institute’s adjusted data. Exports of goods and services grew by 1.7 percent. The unemployment rate in the country decreased from 11.3 in 2013 to 7.2 in 2017.
- Bulgaria is ranked 51st according to the Human Development Index (HDI) – Bulgaria’s HDI is higher than its Eastern Europe neighbors Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. The index measures a country’s development based on factors such as life expectancy, the standard of living and education. Bulgaria’s HDI value had an increased 17.1 percent, from 0.694 to 0.813, between 1990 and 2017. It is now in the very high development category.
- Children In Bulgaria Face High Poverty Rates – The population of Bulgarians living below the poverty line was 23.4 percent in 2016 with children facing the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion among E.U. member states. Data from 2016 shows that 527,000 children (or 43.7 percent) live in low-income households.
- Access to health services remains limited to some groups in the country. Around 12 percent of citizens do not have insurance, and the high costs of out-of-pocket payments limits access for low-income people, the elderly and the Roma minority. Additional barriers to health services for people with low income are traveling distance and the availability of doctors.
The transition from a centralized, planned economy to a free market one has been tumultuous. The country has implemented changes, but it is lagging behind in its development compared to other member states in the EU. These facts about living conditions in Bulgaria focus on what needs to improve and how poverty in Bulgaria has ethnic, gender, age and rural dimensions.
The situation may look pessimistic based on some of these 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria, but despite its challenges, Bulgaria has vastly improved and continues to improve. The cultural environment is rich and diverse and tourism is flourishing in many parts of the country. Furthermore, telecommunications are highly developed with Internet speeds being some of the highest in the world.
Overall, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria highlight that, while there is room for improvement, the country has great potential to continue developing into a wealthy, prosperous member of the EU.
– Aleksandra Sirakov