Professor Audra I. Mockaitis

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A statistical fairytale

I recently needed to estimate my sample size for a survey. To come up with my magic number I first needed to know the population size, and so I began to search for official data. In this case I was interested in the Lithuanian diaspora population. In my search I came across some surprising data published by Lithuanian government institutions that left me scratching my head and wondering how it was possible to come up with such strange numbers. And so my story begins…

A tale of two websites

Since Lithuanian independence in 1990, the population has decreased by 845,000. In 1990 Lithuania’s population was 3.7 million; in 2017 it was 2.8 million, a decrease of 23% (EMN, 2017[1]).

According to the website “Migration in Numbers” by the European Migration Network (EMN) (, which presents statistics compiled via collaboration between six institutions[2], during the past seven years (2010-2016), there were 348,425 emigrants from Lithuania. The highest numbers have emigrated to the UK (164081), Ireland (35911) and Norway (24331) among others.

However, data published by the Lithuanian Department of Statistics (LDS) paint a different picture. In its 2014 publication “Lietuviai pasaulyje” (Lithuanians in the World), the LDS claims to have collected data over a 10 year period (2005-2014) from official census data in different countries on the numbers of permanent resident Lithuanians in those countries. Lithuanians were defined as people who: are Lithuanian citizens, and/or were born in Lithuania, and/or are of Lithuanian heritage, and/or whose native language is Lithuanian.

That’s a lot of and/ors. According to the LDS definition, non-Lithuanian citizens are not excluded from this list. This means that they counted anyone who identifies with Lithuania whether or not they were born in Lithuania and whether or not they speak Lithuanian as their native language. A candidate for this list might be someone who is of Lithuanian descent but does not speak the language. Another candidate might be someone who was born in Lithuania and is a Lithuanian citizen. Yet another candidate might be a non-Lithuanian citizen, whose native language is Lithuanian (such as a second generation foreign born national). Given such a wide net, we would expect the Lithuanian diaspora population to be extremely large. Yet, according to the LDS data, this is not the case. Take a look at these numbers. I have included just a sample of countries with larger Lithuanian populations:

stats table

Something doesn’t add up, right? The first line alone already tells a puzzling tale. It tells us that emigrants from Lithuania during the years 2010 to 2014 comprised more than a third (35%) of all Lithuanians living abroad[3]. Really?  In five years?

If we look at the data for the UK, in 2014 the LDS claims there were 123,593 broadly defined Lithuanians in the UK. EMS statistics show that 164,081 emigrants left Lithuania for the UK from 2010 to 2016. If we use 2014 as a cutoff for the LDS statistics, that leaves a difference of 40,488. In fact, 42265 Lithuanians did leave for the UK during 2015 and 2016, so these numbers are pretty close. However, the LDS data do not refer only to recent immigrants to the UK, but to the total numbers of Lithuanians residing in the country – anyone with a Lithuanian passport, anyone who speaks Lithuanian, and anyone who considers oneself to be Lithuanian. Shouldn’t there be more?

Let’s consider the USA example. Here the EMS data indicate only 35,703 Lithuanians in the USA, a number that is baffling. Just under 11,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the USA during the past seven years. Even if we remove the 2,366 people that moved there in the last two years, this means that Lithuanian immigrants have contributed to a rise in the US-Lithuanian population of around 30% from 2009-2014 (5 years) alone.

Let’s consider the statistics from the USA census data (the data that the LDS claim to have relied on). The 2000 US census data has the Lithuanian-American population at 659,992. Sure, not all of these hundreds of thousands speak Lithuanian, or hold a Lithuanian passport, but it is quite probable that, if they are included in the US census data, they identify as Lithuanian or are of Lithuanian heritage. So how has the LDS overlooked this in its calculation of Lithuanian residents in the USA – an eighteen fold difference?

bad data

Did the LDS not check sources? Did they really receive census data that counters available published census data? Was there no cross-checking?

I have not found many additional published sources on the diaspora population. If a reliable recent source exists, I would be grateful to learn about it.



[2] Ministry of the Interior, Statistics Lithuania, Migration department, Lithuanian Labour Exchange, European Migration Network (EMN), International Organization for Migration (IOM) Vilnius Office.

[3] From 2010 to 2014 there were 218952 total emigrants from Lithuania (EMS data).

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