At the time of the 1991 census, the population of Greece was 10,264,156, an increase of 524,000 (5.4 percent) since 1981. In 1991 population density was 78.1 persons per square kilometer--a misleading statistic because much of Greece's mountainous territory is uninhabited. The birth rate has been shrinking steadily since its peak of 20.3 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 1951; between 1984 and 1991, the rate decreased from 12.7 to 10.1 births per 1,000 persons, placing Greece at or below the average growth level of nearly all other Western industrialized nations. Males, whose average life expectancy of seventy-five years is five years less than that for females, comprise 49 percent of the population.
In 1990 approximately 59,000 marriages took place in Greece. Of the women who married that year, the most (40 percent) were in the age-group between twenty and twenty-four, while 26 percent were between twenty-five and twenty-nine. Of the men, 38 percent were between twenty-five and twenty-nine, and 22 percent were in each of the age-groups immediately younger and older. In 1991 some 6,351 marriages, or 0.6 percent, ended in divorce. Of the 102,229 births recorded in 1990, some 7 percent were to women aged fifteen to nineteen, 31 percent to women between twenty and twenty-four, and 34 percent to women between twenty-five and twenty-nine.
In the early 1990s, demographic forecasts predicted that the population would remain virtually stable in the period between 1990 and 2010, however, the demographic characteristics of the population were changing dramatically. In 1990 the working-age population (people between ages fifteen and sixty-four) numbered 6,703,000, or 66 percent of the total. An expected rise of over 600,000 in the elderly population (from 14 percent to 20 percent of the total) would shrink the percentage of working-age Greeks to 64 percent by 2010. In the same period, young adults (ages fifteen to twenty-four) were expected to drop from 15 percent to less than 11 percent of the total. Greece is therefore participating in the general European trend of aging populations and fewer individuals entering the workplace, but Greece's ratio of thirty-one elderly people per 100 working-age citizens was the highest in Western Europe.
Since World War II, the population of Greece has shifted noticeably into the geographical axis defined by Athens in the south and Thessaloniki in the north. The highest rates of migration occurred between 1950 and 1967, a period of major change in all of Greek society. As people flocked to Athens in greater numbers than at any time since the late nineteenth century, the average annual growth rate of the capital exceeded 4 percent between 1951 and 1956. After the hardships of World War II and the Civil War, the government's promise of new economic opportunity, centered in Athens, attracted many villagers. Between 1955 and 1971, an estimated 1.5 million farmers left their land. In the 1960s, the share of agricultural workers in the work force dropped from 53 percent to 41 percent.
As the first members of rural families established lives in the city, they formed the basis for a type of chain migration. In 1960 an estimated 56 percent of the inhabitants of Greater Athens were postwar migrants. The trend slowed somewhat in the 1960s and 1970s, but in those decades Athens grew by 37 percent and 19 percent respectively, and Thessaloniki grew by 46 percent and 27 percent respectively. Migration to Athens came mainly from southern Greece and the islands, that to Thessaloniki from the north of the country. By 1981 cities with more than 10,000 people contained 56.2 percent of the population, towns of 2,000 to 10,000 people contained 11.9 percent, and the remaining 31.9 percent lived in villages or rural communities.
In 1991 the population of Athens, the largest city, was 748,000, but the population of Greater Athens, including its port city of Piraeus, was 3.1 million. The second largest city, Thessaloniki, had 396,000 people in 1991, but only four other cities, Patras, Heraklion, Volos, and Larissa, had populations over 100,000.