Nordland’s population decline is the highest seen by national statistics bureau Statistics Norway (SSB) for 20 years, NRK reports.
The county, Norway’s largest by area, lost 702 inhabitants in the third quarter of this year, according to SSB data.
During July, August and September, the population of Nordland fell by 702 persons, while Norway’s overall population increased by 11,200 inhabitants. 36 of Nordland county's 44 municipalities lost residents.
The Statistics Norway figures are uncomfortable reading, according to Tomas Norvoll, head of the Nordland county government.
“The declining population means that many of the challenges we already have will become even greater,” Norvoll told NRK.
Statistics Norway confirmed that the decline in Nordland is severe, with no county in the last 20 years recording a larger negative population change during a quarter.
“I can confirm that this is a heavy blow. In this time interval, for which records go back to the last quarter of 1997, no county has had a larger negative population change during a quarter,” Magnus Haug of SSB’s Population Statistics Section told NRK.
On only once occasion since 1998 has Statistics Norway recorded a larger negative population growth per 1000 inhabitants meanwhile. That occurred in Finnmark in the third quarter of 1998.
“Population growth in Nordland in the third quarter is strongly negative compared to quarterly county figures from the last 20 years. But there are many factors that can contribute to quarterly fluctuations at a local level, where numbers are small,” Haug said.
Several municipalities in Nordland have struggled with population decline in recent years, NRK writes.
Although a new population record was set in Northern Norway in 2012, that growth dwindled, and NRK reported declines in the region in 2016 due to centralization: people moving from smaller municipalities to larger ones.
But figures previously typical of population decline in smaller municipalities are now also common in larger municipalities.
“The most scary thing is that places you think are driving growth in their regions are also not growing. Not only that, they are going down (in population) too in some cases,” Norvoll said.
Population growth has slowed in Nordland’s largest city, Bodø.
Although Bodø grew by 123 inhabitants in the third quarter of 2019, that is not considered significant growth in a city with over 50,000 inhabitants.
The total number of emigrants from Nordland in the quarter was 2822, with 2110 persons migrating into the county.
In terms of population change for 2019, both Troms and Finnmark have so far experienced larger declines Per 1000 inhabitants than Nordland, however.
Norvoll said that the figures may be related to current low refugee immigration to Norway, since immigration may have previously obscured the underlying population change.
Whilst population is decreasing in northern Norway, the average age is increasing.
“This can affect the sustainability of individual societies. It can also mean losing some of the incentive to create new things. If you are going to start a new business, you need people of working age who can create and be in those jobs,” Norvoll said.
The county council leader said he wants to look at underlying factors behind the figures in order to work with municipalities on measures to combat demographic change.