The Impact of Demographic Change in Nordic Regions

Demographic change is one of the megatrends that will influence the Nordic countries in many ways during the coming decades and beyond. Issues of increasing urbanization, mobility, ageing populations and other changes in population structure are receiving increasing attention and will have a crucial impact on the future of the Nordic cities and regions. In this issue of Nordregio News, we focus on the impacts on the Nordic regions of these changes in the population structure. Two examples of coping with these challenges are described.

In recent years, the impacts of demographic changes on the Nordic countries have been highlighted by some notable phenomena. In Finland, the number of people aged over 65 passed the one million mark in 2012. In Denmark, females have tended to retire much earlier than males, a pattern that distinguishes Denmark from the other Nordic countries. During the period 2005-2008, the population of Iceland increased at a record rate from both a national and a European point of view. However, the financial crisis in the autumn of 2008 resulted in major changes in population development, because in 2009 Iceland for the first time since 1889 experienced a decrease in population. In 2010, the total population of Iceland increased again, mostly because of high birth rates. In Norway, males were in the majority at the national level in 2011 for the first time in recorded history. As for Sweden, over 80% of the population increase is occurring in the commuting catchment areas of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

These changes in demographic pattern will have a large impact on a variety of policy areas, not least by combining with other factors to pose important challenges for the welfare system. To address challenges such as the rapidly ageing population, a number of policy initiatives have been undertaken on the European, Nordic and national levels. During its EU presidency in 2011, Hungary took the strategic initiative to raise awareness of demographic challenges and to highlight innovative strategies employed by national and local governments to address them. As one of the European initiatives on ageing populations and to enhance 'intergenerational' solidarity, 2012 was designated the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. The initiative was intended to raise awareness of the contribution of older people to society and to encourage policymakers to create better opportunities for active ageing, thus ensuring that people can grow old in good health and continue to be active members of society.

During 2013, Sweden holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Sweden has declared demographic change and its impact on the Nordic welfare model as one of the main priorities of its presidency. This prioritization of demographic issues follows the initiatives of the Nordic Council of Ministers, adopted to focus on demographic development from a territorial perspective. An important part of this initiative was the Nordic Demographic Handbook, addressing demographic issues with a Nordic comparative perspective.

From this starting point, the first article in this issue, A Nordic 'Agequake'? Population Ageing in Nordic Cities and Regions, focuses on the most relevant of the probable challenges to the Nordic welfare model, namely the ageing of the population. The article, written by Johanna Roto and myself, provides a more specific indication of the current situation and predicted development concerning ageing in various parts of the Nordic countries. The likely impact of these trends on a number of policy areas, especially in municipalities and regions, is also discussed.

The second article Age Power for the Regions! The Finnish Network's Initiative for Managing the Change in Age Structure by Antti Korkka describes a national initiative in Finland, where many municipalities already face severe challenges related to the ageing of the population. Antti Korkka writes about the DEMO network, which was part of the Government's special programme for Regional Cohesion and Competitiveness. The aim of the DEMO network was to address specific problems in regions facing the challenge of an ageing and declining population.

In the last article Demographic Challenges are Everybody's Concern, Camilla Sahlander of the County Administration Board in Dalarna reflects upon a cross-border project on demographic challenges involving Dalarna in Sweden and Hedmark in Norway. She highlights that the municipalities in Dalarna and Hedmark are in many ways connected by their demographic challenges. Thus far, the project has been an important tool to strengthen the awareness of the demographic challenges within the organizations involved in the project, but also more broadly in the two regions.

Lisa Hörnström

Senior Research Fellow

Johanna Roto

GIS/Cartography Coordinator

and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 3, 2013