Sweden is sparsely populated. This is especially true in the north, about 85 percent of the population lives in the southern third. Almost a quarter of the residents are born abroad or have parents who both come from another country. The proportion of elderly people in the population is high. This is due to long life expectancy and many years of slow population growth. However, birth rates are above the average in Europe, which in combination with high immigration means that the population growth rate is now relatively high.
When the first complete census was carried out in 1749, Sweden – which then included Finland – had 1.8 million residents. Reduced child mortality led to an increase in population during the 19th century. The rapid growth made it difficult to support everyone. Misgrowth and religious persecution contributed to the great emigration to mainly North America: between 1865 and 1940, over 1 million Swedes left their homeland for good. The population of Sweden at the turn of the 1900 was just over 5 million.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Sweden, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
In the 1930s, some emigrants returned, and during the war years 1939–1945 came refugees from neighboring countries. However, Sweden was still seen as an ethnically homogeneous country. In the latter half of the 20th century, however, Sweden became an immigrant country with ever-increasing ethnic diversity. Population growth during the period was largely due to immigration. In early 2017, the 10 million limit was passed.
The need for labor in the industry and the growing service sector attracted many job seekers from mainly the Nordic countries and southern Europe during the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, at a time when political commitment to third-world countries has grown strongly, immigration policy was given a new focus. Sweden would become a multicultural society, and the country was opened to asylum seekers and their relatives who fled from wars and conflicts or for other reasons. Most came from Latin America and the Middle East.
Increased refugee immigration
In the context of the conflict in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the number of asylum seekers increased significantly. Of those who were granted permanent residence permits during the 1990s, just over a third were designated as refugees. Immigration policy became a debated issue for a period of time. At the beginning of the 2000s, the number of asylum seekers again increased, partly as a result of Sweden’s entry into the EU countries’ border cooperation in the Schengen agreement. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sweden for a few years received more refugees from there than the rest of the EU in total.
Concerns in the Middle East from 2011 led to an increase in the number of asylum seekers. From summer 2015, the number of refugees rose to the highest levels so far; during some autumn weeks, around 10,000 a week arrived in Sweden. Most came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and quite a few also from Eritrea, Somalia and Iran. A total of 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest figure per resident of any country in Europe.
Changed migration policy
The influx of asylum applications led to major changes in migration policy from the end of 2015, when temporary border controls were introduced. In June 2016, the asylum law was changed and now, among other things, temporary residence permits became the norm.
Four years after the great wave of asylum seekers, just over a third of the 163,000 had been granted permanent residence permits in Sweden.
Immigration – which, in addition to asylum seekers who are allowed to stay, also includes, among other things, labor immigrants and returning Swedes – reached a record level in 2016 and remains at a high level, although the figure is declining. In 2018, 133,000 people immigrated to Sweden, of which just under a third were refugee immigrants and their relatives. The same year, 47,000 emigrated, which means that net immigration was 86,000. Most of the emigrants are foreign-born.
Of the permanent population, 19 percent are born abroad (another 5 percent have parents who are both from another country). The largest group of foreign-born people were from Finland for many decades, but since 2017, Syria is the most common country of origin.
Anyone who has been resident in Sweden for five years can obtain Swedish citizenship.
Sami indigenous people
Since ancient times, Sami have lived in northern Scandinavia. This minority has its own Finnish-Ugric language. The Swedish Sami population is currently estimated at up to 20,000 people. However, the figure is uncertain as ethnicity is not registered in Sweden. In 1993, the Swedish Sami elected their first Sami Parliament – an advisory body to the government and parliament. The Sami were recognized as indigenous peoples in 1977, as a national minority in 2000 and, after constitutional changes in 2011, also as peoples.
Finnish-speaking groups also live in northern Sweden, especially in Tornedalen. Sami, Swedes, Finns, Jews and Romans are recognized as national minorities in Sweden and their languages (Sami, Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani Chib and Yiddish) are national minority languages with special protection.
The Swedish language
Swedish was given a law-protected position only in 2009, when a new language law established that it is the main language and the community-bearing language in Sweden. Sign language also gained a special position. In Finland and the EU, Swedish is already the official language.
Swedish is part of the Nordic branch of the Germanic language family, together with Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. During the late Middle Ages and in the 16th and 16th centuries, the Swedish was greatly influenced by various German dialects.
From the middle of the 17th century, the Swede was given a number of French loan words through the immigration of French-speaking Wallons. The French influence was reinforced during the 18th century when the French court and the upper class spoke French. During the 20th century, and especially after the Second World War, the influence of English has grown stronger.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
the majority of Swedes, just under one fifth of the residents are born in another country
Number of residents
10 067 744 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
87.1 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
11.8 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
9.2 per 1000 residents (2016)
1.4 percent (2017)
1.9 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.0 percent (2017)
82 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
84 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
80 years (2016)
Swedish has the status of main language 1
- Sami, Finnish, Tornedal Finnish, Romani and Yiddish are official minoritysources
First conviction for war crimes
Stockholm District Court sentenced Jackie Arklöv to eight years in prison for violating international law in the Balkans in 1993, in the first such conviction handed down in Sweden. Since 2000, Arklöv has served a life sentence for police murder the year before.
New ministers resign
The government is off to a shaky start: within two weeks, two ministers – Minister of Commerce Maria Borelius and Minister of Culture Cecilia Stegö Chilò – have resigned, following disclosures about black domestic help and unpaid TV fees. Migration Minister Tobias Billström also turns out to have ignored the TV fee, but he remains.
New government ready
Moderate leader Fredrik Reinfeldt presents his government, which consists of M, C, FP and KD. Former Prime Minister Carl Bildt returns unexpectedly to the government, now as Foreign Minister.
New President is appointed
Moderator Per Westerberg becomes the new Speaker of the Riksdag, after Björn von Sydow.
Civilian Rolling Victory
The four parties in the Alliance win the parliamentary election. The Moderates (M) make their best choice since 1928, and the Social Democrats (S) their worst. Prime Minister Göran Persson announces that he is resigning as Social Democratic Party leader. The result in percentages and the distribution of seats will be: S 35 percent and 130 seats, M 26 percent and 97 seats, Center Party (C) 7.9 percent and 29 seats, People’s Party (FP) 7.5 percent and 28 seats, Christian Democrats (KD) 6, 6 percent and 24 seats, the Left Party (V) 5.8 percent and 22 seats, the Environmental Party (MP) 5.2 percent and 19 seats.