Babies and immigrants: Sweden’s population continues to grow, but slowly

Sweden’s total population has almost reached 10.5 million people, according to new statistics which also reveal the top countries new arrivals came from last year.

Babies and immigrants: Sweden's population continues to grow, but slowly
People walking in a snowy Stockholm. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Sweden’s population grew by 73,031 people to a grand total of 10,452,326 people in 2021, according to national number crunchers Statistics Sweden’s latest figures.

That’s a relatively small growth, in fact the smallest since 2005 with the exception of 2020, when the population of Sweden grew by just over 51,000 people (or in relative terms, 0.5 percent – even less than the country’s 0.7 percent population growth in 2021).

“The population is increasing for two reasons. Partly because more people are born than die, partly because more immigrate than emigrate. Most of the increase is explained by the immigration surplus,” said Statistics Sweden analyst Rasmus Andersson in a statement.

A total of 90,631 people moved to Sweden last year, and 48,284 left the country. The most common country of birth among new immigrants was Sweden, followed by India and Syria in second and third place.

Around 6,000 fewer people died compared to 2020. But the 91,958 deaths in 2021 were still more than the yearly average in the five years before the pandemic (90,962).

“In 2020 we saw an unusually large increase in the number of deaths compared to the years prior. The number of deaths in 2021 was higher than 2019 but in line with 2017 and 2018,” said Andersson.

But the number of births also rose slightly, with a birth surplus of 22,305 people.

The population increased the most in the western city of Gothenburg (4,493, including births as well as people arriving from abroad and other parts of Sweden), followed by Malmö in the south (3,800), and Uppsala (3,757) and Stockholm (3,219) in central Sweden.

Commuter towns Knivsta, Österåker and Upplands-Bro – all in the Stockholm and Uppsala area – had the largest relative increase: 3.7, 3.4 and 2.9 percent, respectively.

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‘Working from home’: Sweden sees post-pandemic baby boom

It was like clockwork. Nine months after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities across Sweden experienced a mini baby boom, with births increasing for the first time in years.

'Working from home': Sweden sees post-pandemic baby boom

For Karl McShane, a population statistician with the municipality of Malmö, the data came as a surprise when it started to arrive back in April and May 2020. 

“I was expecting fertility to go down, because there was also an economic crisis, and that usually brings it down,” remembers McShane, whose father is Irish.

“But then we got the pregnancy data, and I was speaking to colleagues in Gothenburg and Stockholm, and they saw the same thing: there were more ultrasounds, there were more people visiting maternity services. There was a peak. There hadn’t been that many people at Malmö’s maternity health centres for years.” 

Nine months later, in the first three months of 2021, there was a mini baby boom, with 1,282 babies born in Malmö, the highest first quarter number in at least 13 years. 

“I think working from home was one cause of it,” McShane argues. “At any given point in time, there’s a number of couples that wants to have a child, and it takes a while. But suddenly, a whole group got an increased opportunity.” 

The baby boom was even more marked in Gothenburg, he says, while so many people left Stockholm to move to the countryside in 2020 and 2021, that the statistics are hard to follow.  

According to a study by Statistics Sweden, the fertility rate of women born in Sweden rose in 2021 for the first time following ten years of continuous decline, rising from 1.6 children per woman in 2020 to 1.62 in 2021. 

A chart from Statistics Sweden showing how birthrates rose in 2021 in all but the lowest income group. Source: Statistics Sweden.

“Growth in childbirth can to a certain extent be linked to the groups which experienced a better balance between work and family life during the pandemic,” the agency wrote in its report. “This could apply, for example, to women who already had one or two children, or women with a higher income.” 

McShane points out that there was no baby boom among women born outside Sweden, perhaps because they and their partners were more likely to have jobs where working from home was impossible. 

The boom in Malmö was short-lived, however, with the birthrates slumping again in the second half of 2021, hitting their lowest level since 2008.

McShane dismissed the suggestion that this was because couples working from home had begun to tire of one an another, explaining that it was more because most of the women who had wanted to have a child had already managed to get pregnant.