‘Scary’ depopulation of northern region of Norway hits record high

Northern Norwegian county Nordland lost inhabitants at the rate of eight people every day over a three-month period.

'Scary' depopulation of northern region of Norway hits record high
Elvfjorden in Nordland. Photo: MelanieLemahieu/Depositphotos

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.

READ ALSO: Norway registers lowest quarterly birth rate since 1985

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How the population of Norway has changed in 2021

A potential lockdown baby boom and the impact of entry restrictions on immigration are amongst possible observations from a new statistics report on Norway's population.

How the population of Norway has changed in 2021
Norway's fertility rate may rise if births continue to go up. Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

During the first three months of the year, 13,960 children were born in Norway, nearly 700 more than the same period last year, new figures from Statistics Norway show. 

Typically, during health crises and times of financial uncertainty, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, birth rates tend to fall, but the opposite effect seems apparent in the new data.

If this trend continues, then the fertility rate in Norway may rise. That measure is currently 1.48 children per woman as of 2020. 

“We are very surprised by these figures. It is also quite striking that the increase in births began roughly nine months after the first coronavirus restrictions were introduced last year,” Statistics Norway executive officer Ane Magritte Tømmerås said in the report. 

The number of recorded deaths was lower than in the corresponding quarter of 2020. 10,100 people passed in Norway during the first quarter of this year, 700 fewer compared to the same period last year. Death rates have fallen consistently in Norway for several years. It should be noted that the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Norway towards the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Additionally, death rates declined within many age groups. The decline was particularly prominent in men over 90. In 2021, 58.2 men in this age group per 1,000 passed away in the first quarter compared to 67.7 per 1,000 in the first three months of last year. 

Death rate per 1,000 by gender and age group in the first quarter. Source: Statistics Norway

Immigration was up during the early months of 2021 compared to 2020. However, the first quarter of 2021 saw the second-lowest level of immigration since 2006. 

This may, in part, be due to strict border restrictions that have been in place since January and limit entry to very few people outside of residents and citizens of Norway. 

READ MORE: Travel: Norway extends Covid travel restrictions 

In total, 11,200 immigrants registered in Norway in the first three months of this year. 

Total number of people immigrating to Norway during the first quarter. Source: Statistics Norway

Overall, the population of Norway grew by 7,400 people during the first quarter. The population in Norway is now estimated to be 5,398,804. 

Statistics Norway also found that more people were relocating from big cities. Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand had more people move out than in, albeit by a small margin.

“This is very unusual. This has happened in some quarters before, but never in the first quarter,” said Magnus Haug of Statistics Norway.

On the other hand, Oslo saw a larger increase in people moving out. Oslo saw 1,900 more people move out than in.