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.

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OPINION: Sweden’s ‘historic investment’ has failed to solve the housing crisis

Five years after Sweden's government promised to solve the country's housing crisis with a "historic investment", things are as bad as ever, David Crouch argues. Radical action is needed.

OPINION: Sweden's 'historic investment' has failed to solve the housing crisis

Forced to move house 20 times in the past eight years, Maria’s situation was desperate. She and her daughter had arrived in Stockholm from Latin America in search of a better life. She found work, no problem – but housing was impossible.

“Sometimes I was paying 12,000kr in rent and it was very hard because I only had 15,000kr in monthly salary,” says Maria (not her real name). So she took a high-interest loan of 240,000kr and tried to bribe someone in the Housing Agency to get to the front of the queue for affordable housing.

But she was caught. Her fate is unknown. And she didn’t even get an apartment.

This recent story, in the excellent newspaper of the Tenants’ Association, sums up the problems facing people who move here to work. The market for rental accommodation is tight as a drum. Finding a home means competing with Swedes, but with all the disadvantages of being an outsider. So people find themselves pushed into short-term, insecure rental contracts at inflated prices.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Five years ago this month, the government announced a “historic investment in housing”, including subsidies for construction companies, easing restrictions on building permits, and making more land available.

The housing situation at the time was grim. Spotify had threatened to leave Sweden if things didn’t improve – how could the company attract skilled young people to a city where there was nowhere for them to live? More than half Stockholm’s population – 600,000 people – were in the queue for a coveted rental apartment, because strict regulation meant these rents were low. But it took as long as 20 years to get to the front of that queue.

The result was a thriving rental property black market, with large bribes changing hands. Many tenants exploited the situation by sub-letting their homes, or parts of them. “It is almost impossible for immigrants and new arrivals to penetrate this market – it is all about who you know and how much money you have,” said Billy McCormac, head of the Fastighetsägarna property association, in 2015.


So what has been the outcome of the grand promises the government made five years ago? House-building at the time was already rising steadily, and it has continued to do so. Look around you in the big cities and you will see that new apartment blocks have sprung up here and there.

But we shouldn’t go only on appearances. To understand the reality, we need to look at some numbers.

The gap between demand for housing and the existing housing stock has indeed started to shrink. “As housing construction has gradually increased and population growth has begun to slow down, the gap has decreased since 2017,” Stockholm’s Housing Agency noted in December.

The Agency has broken records four years in a row for the number of rental homes it has provided. The proportion of young adults living independently has also increased somewhat, the Tenants’ Association found, probably due to the pace of construction.

But this smidgen of good news is outweighed by an avalanche of bad.

The average queuing time in 2021 for a Stockholm apartment was more than 9 years; for somewhere in the city centre you have to wait 18 years. Only 936 homes came with a waiting time of less than one year. More than three-quarters of a million people are now registered in the queue for housing – a big increase on five years ago.

The rate at which the housing shortage is shrinking is nowhere near fast enough to alleviate the huge accumulated demand.

Assuming that the current pace of construction can be maintained, it will be the end of this decade before any significant dent is made in the deficit of homes, according to Boverket – the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning. The current rate of construction is “only marginally more than the long-term need”, it says.

The challenge is even greater when it comes to producing affordable housing, Boverket says, especially for the young and those entering the housing market for the first time. Almost one in four young Swedes up to the age of 27 are forced to live at home – the second-highest figure since the measurements began.

There are already signs that housing construction is actually slowing down, owing to higher building material prices, rising interest rates and an incipient labour shortage. Construction prices rose by more than 8 percent last year, and there is concern in the industry that war in Ukraine will further affect costs, in turn slowing the pace of building.

There is another fly in the ointment, a consequence of the collapse of Sweden’s governing coalition in November. The new, minority administration was forced to adopt the opposition’s budget, which halted investment subsidies for house building, throwing the construction industry into confusion.

In short, the “Swedish model” for providing people with a roof over their heads is failing. The folkhemmet, or “people’s home”, has not enough homes for its people.

Swedes themselves understand this: in a survey last month, nine out of ten voters said they thought that politicians did not take the housing shortage seriously.

We have waited too long. It is time for fresh thinking and radical action to solve the housing crisis.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University