Finland is one of Europe’s most sparsely populated countries. The residents are mainly concentrated to the southern and southwestern parts of the country, where the five largest cities are located. In northern Finland, only five residents live per square kilometer.
One challenge for Finland is that population growth is very low, while the population on average is getting older. In 2015, one of five Finns was 65 years or older.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Finland, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
Nine out of ten residents speak Finnish as their mother tongue. The country also has a Swedish-speaking minority, called Finnish Swedes, who make up five, six percent of the population. In addition, there is a small minority of Sami of about 9,000 people.
The Finnish Swedes live mainly in the Helsinki area, in the southwestern coastal areas and in Ostrobothnia around Vaasa. Virtually all residents of Åland, called Ålanders, speak Swedish (see Åland).
The Sami are Finland’s only indigenous population. They have since 1973 a people-elected Sami in Finnish Lapland with cultural autonomy, the so-called Sami homeland (see Political system).
Finland’s population has varied over time. The number of residents increased five-fold between 1809 and 1965, despite the fact that about 370,000 Finns emigrated in the late 1800s and early 1900s, most to North America. After the wars of 1939-1944 (see Older history), around a tenth of the population became homeless when, among other things, Finland was forced to leave large parts of Karelia in the southeast to the Soviet Union. The 450,000 Karelians who then fled to Finland were offered small farms cut off from state or privately owned land. Combined with high birth rates in the 1940s and large numbers of immigrants to the cities, this led to a rapid increase in the population in southern and southwestern Finland.
From emigration to immigration
During the 1960s, many Finns began to emigrate to Sweden. In 1969 and 1970, the emigration to the neighboring country in the west was so great that Finland’s population declined. More than half a million Finns have since 1945 moved to Sweden in search of work, higher wages and better housing. However, more than half of them have later returned to their home country. Nowadays, Finns who move abroad primarily choose to settle in Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During the 1990s, the previously strict Finnish immigration policy began to loosen up somewhat and the refugee quota was increased in stages. As a result, people from other countries began to apply to Finland. In 2015, almost 230,000 foreign nationals resided in the country. The two largest groups were Estonians and Russians. Most had come to Finland because of family ties, work or studies.
Finland has long been one of the countries in Europe that received the lowest number of asylum seekers. In 2005, about 11,500 people applied for asylum in the country, while the number of asylum seekers fell to about 3,000 people in 2011. Most who applied for asylum in 2011 came from Iraq, Somalia, Russia or Afghanistan. That year, 1,271 people were granted asylum.
As a result of an increased influx of refugees to Europe, Finland received 32,500 asylum seekers in 2015, of which just over 20,000 were Iraqis. It was almost ten times more asylum seekers than 2014 and the fourth highest number among European countries in relation to the number of residents. At the end of 2015, reports began to emerge that the Citizens’ Guard – some with ties to neo-Nazi groups – had been formed in some places where asylum homes were built. According to them, the guards would protect the local population from “Islamic invaders”. In the spring of 2016, most Iraqis had withdrawn their asylum application and many had returned to their homeland. One of the reasons was that the authorities had made it more difficult to obtain asylum (see further Current policy).
Finnish is a Finnish-Ugric language, closely related to Estonian and Karelian and in the long run to Sami, Kurdish and Hungarian. Finnish and Swedish are equal official languages in Finland since 1922. From 1992, Sami is also the official language in the areas in the north where the Sami live. The status of the Åland Islands as a Swedish-speaking region is guaranteed by an international convention of 1921.
The position of the Swedish language was contentious and central to Finnish domestic politics until the Second World War, when Finns and Finnish Swedes made common cause on other, more fiery national issues. Nevertheless, the language issue can still spark debate at regular intervals. Among other things, compulsory Swedish education in Finnish compulsory schools has been called into question. The government decided in 1993 to keep the bond but to a somewhat reduced extent. Swedish teaching is sometimes referred to by its opponents as forced Swedish. Support for Swedish education has been strongest in the municipalities where Swedish is spoken, while the resistance has been greatest in central and eastern Finland.
Municipalities where the Swedish speakers make up at least eight percent of the population must offer community service in both languages. These municipalities are classified as bilingual. Since 2003, language skills in either Swedish or Finnish have been required to obtain Finnish citizenship.
Among minority languages, Sami and Romani also have a special position, and Finns who speak sign languages have special rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. In Finnish schools, students with other native languages can also receive special language teaching. The largest languages after Finnish and Swedish are Russian, Estonian, English, Somali and Arabic.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
Finnish-speaking 93%, Swedish-speaking 6%, other 1%
Number of residents
5 511 303 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
85.3 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
9.6 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
9.8 per 1000 residents (2016)
0.3 percent (2017)
1.7 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.7 percent (2017)
82 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
85 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
79 years (2016)
Finnish, Swedish and Sami (partly) are official languages