Why are so many young people moving to Malmö?

Malmö’s population is expected to rise to 500,000 within 30 years with young people anticipated to comprise much of that growth. The Local investigates how Sweden’s third-largest city is planning ahead for the swell in numbers.

Why are so many young people moving to Malmö?
Photo: Karolina Friberg/

For many locals in Malmö, the paradigm shift in the city’s identity occurred in 2002 when the iconic Kockums crane was sold to South Korea. The 138-metre crane, which was located in the harbour district, was a Malmö landmark and a throwback to the era of shipbuilding and heavy industry in the city. Indeed, grown men were said to have wept as the crane was shipped off to Asia. 

Two years earlier, the Öresund bridge was opened while construction on the Turning Torso commenced in 2001. Malmö was changing at the turn of the millennium but, paradoxically, the city’s birth rate was low. 

“In the early 2000s, there was an extremely low fertility rate all over Sweden; the lowest ever recorded. Nobody knows exactly why but the economy wasn't doing well and there was a trend of staying longer at university,” Karl McShane, senior advisor at the City of Malmö, tells The Local. 

Malmö reached 300,000 inhabitants by 2011 and in June 2019, the population stands at 341,000. While the refugee crisis of recent times had an understandable spike on the city’s numbers, that is only telling a portion of the story explains McShane. 

“Non-refugee immigration has increased. Even in peak years, refugee migration only made up one-third of all migration. Two thirds of the people moving to Malmö come from other municipalities in Sweden,” says McShane who compiles data population reports for the City of Malmö.

Click here to find out more about developments in Malmö


Photo: Karl McShane

Malmö’s population grew by 1.7 percent in 2018 with Stockholm (1.3 percent) and Gothenburg (1.4 percent) trailing in the wake of the southern city for growth in numbers.

More than 40 percent of all new apartments built in Skåne in the 2010s have been constructed in the city while more than 30 percent of all jobs in the southern region of Skåne are located in Malmö. And that share is increasing; more than half of all new jobs in 2017 in Skåne were in Malmö. Tech firms and startups – with young workforces – have been drawn to Malmö due to the city’s proximity to continental Europe and cheaper office rental rates compared to Stockholm. 

“The trends across the big three cities are the same. As long as there are more people coming in than leaving, the average age decreases, which has been the case for decades,” says McShane. 

He adds, “We are seeing a constant pattern of movement within Sweden but at an increased volume. Young people move to the cities to work and study and then between the age of 30 to 40 they move to the suburbs in Skåne. You see the same pattern in Stockholm and Gothenburg but Malmö has an even younger demographic than both of those cities.

“There is no clear explanation for how Malmö got so young compared to Stockholm and Gothenburg. It's a trend that we see in other cities but it is stronger here.” 

Indeed, the average age of Malmö residents has been decreasing since 1996. That is borne out by the statistics, which show that Malmö’s average age has decreased in spite of the fact that life expectancy has increased during the same period. In 2019, the average age of a man living in Malmö is 37.5 and a woman is 39.2. The national average is 40.3 for a man and 42.2 for a woman.  

Click here to find out more about developments in Malmö

Photo: Karl McShane

Housing remains a hot topic in Malmö with supply struggling to meet the demand of the growing population. The City of Malmö has estimated that 80,000 new apartments are required and, at present, 50,000 are mooted to be in the pipeline by 2047. 

In recent years, new apartment complexes have been built in the Triangeln areas of the city with continued expansion in Western Harbour. Going forward, the town’s planners have earmarked Hyllie, which is home to Malmö Arena, and Limhamn on the city’s coast to undergo substantial development for new housing. 

Not encroaching on Skåne’s famous flat green landscape has also been factored into the city’s plans. While there will be more housing in Hyllie, a huge new green space will also be built. 

A long-established factor that has made Malmö enticing to new arrivals is the city’s proximity to Copenhagen. The two cities could be set to get even closer if plans to extend the Copenhagen metro system come to fruition. 

Talks began in earnest in 2018 to construct a 22-kilometre tunnel underneath the Öresund to further link Sweden with Denmark. If approved, the first metro trains going from Malmö to Copenhagen could be running by 2035. 

“10,000 people commute across the bridge every day for work but that is nothing compared to what it could be. If the metro extension happens, it would be quicker and not conditional on weather plus there would be more frequent departures,” says McShane. 

In addition to strengthening ties to Copenhagen, the City of Malmö has ongoing workshops where the town’s planners are sketching out just what the city needs in the future in terms of schools, bike tracks, etc. 

“We are asking questions like how will people shop in 30 years time? How will we deal with pollution then? Doing what we are doing now is not an option,” concludes McShane. 

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This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Malmö stad.


INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”