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Nine million Swedes - and counting

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10:25 CEST+02:00
At 14:58 on Thursday 12th August 2004 Sweden's population passed the 'magic' nine million barrier. Apologies for the hyperbole, but this is a story that's been gripping Sweden (or at least the press) for the past week.

Statistics Sweden, the government statistics agency, has had an official 'population clock' ticking away, newspapers have been meeting expectant parents whose baby was due on the predicted day, and weird and wonderful facts have been unearthed to illustrate the hugeness of the number: nine million!!! That's a third of the population of, erm... greater Tokyo (thank you Saturday's Dagens Nyheter).

Meet the Zackrissons from Gävle. Saturday's DN did. Readers were introduced to a proud and very pregnant Stina Zackrisson and 'Froggy', the next addition to the family due to make his or her entrance on Thursday. "With a large slice of luck," gushed the paper, "the baby will claim the title nobody else can - that of Sweden's nine millionth inhabitant."

A clearly bemused father, Joel, was able to deny rumours circulating at DN that they had timed the pregnancy to coincide with the momentous event.

"Nah, it wasn't planned," he said. "I thought our population was nine million already."

Readers were grateful for a full explanation from DN for the reasons behind the breaching of the barrier. "Sweden has been growing to bursting point for several hundred years," the paper continued. "The increase in population of the last few years is due to a positive birth surplus - more births than deaths - and to the number of immigrants exceeding the number of emigrants."

But, as the paper pointed out, 'Froggy' faced tough competition. Last August, on average, 274 babies and 232 immigrants were registered per day. At the time of writing, Statistics Sweden had not established whether 'Froggy' won the race.

Svenska Dagbladet took a slightly more sober approach by focusing on the wild population fluctations in Sweden's counties. Its Tuesday edition revealed that Uppsala was the fastest expanding county in the country. Over the last three months, its population has risen by just over 750.

"This is an excellent endorsement for us," said county chief, Anders Björck. "We also have two universities, are located near Arlanda and boast good communications," he added without missing a beat. Örebro propped up the table with a population decrease of exactly 354.

Wednesday's SvD looked even more soberly into the part played by immigration in the rise in Sweden's population. Apparently, two out of three of the country's new citizens are immigrants. Last year, Iraqis formed the largest immigrant group by nationality. Overall, Finns form the largest group, with 190,000 - many of whom came in the 1970s.

The biggest year for immigration since the second world war was 1994, when 84,000 immigrants were registered, many fleeing the conflict in Bosnia.

According to Thursday's web edition of Aftonbladet, we'll have to wait until 2027 to break ten million. Even that assumes an increase in the number of babies per woman to 1.85 from the current 1.65. If only there were more couples like the Zackrissons, who say they are determined to contribute at least three to the population.

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