Norwegians now number 5 million

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It’s official: As of Monday, March 19, Norway’s population stands at 5 million persons because of record-high growth rates fueled by longer life-spans, the highest fertility rate in Europe and immigration. New residents from Poland and Sweden are accounting for much of Norway’s growth.

Norwegians now number 5 million, many of them highly patriotic. PHOTO: Petter Tandberg/Ski-VM

The official population figure is based on statistics gathered during a census quietly taken last fall, and prognoses based on birthrates and immigration. It’s the immigration that’s behind most of the population growth, as Norway’s strong economy and stable democracy continue to attract new arrivals of those fleeing economic hardship, political instability or much worse in their home countries.

News bureau NTB reported last month that state statistics bureau SSB claimed it was impossible to say exactly when the population would hit 5 million, because it depends on births, deaths, immigration and emigration. Nor could SSB single out exactly who Norway’s resident number 5 million would be.

When pressed, however, statisticians agreed the milestone would most likely be passed in March or April of this year. Svein Holm of SSB has said around 150 persons are born in Norway every day. “Based on completely fresh population statistics, we can now estimate with 85 percent certainty that Norway will have 5 million residents in March,” SSB announced. “We have calculated that it will occur on March 19, 2012.”

Reversing emigration trend
The majority of people living in Norway today have experienced living in the country when it only had both 3 million and 4 million residents, reported newspaper Aftenposten. Norwegians born before World War II lived in a country that until 1942 had even less than 3 million residents.

Today’s rapid population growth reflects Norway’s rapidly growing affluence, and complete transition from a poor country that lost as many as a million residents who left Norway for a better life elsewhere, to a country that now attracts immigrants and which many current residents don’t want to leave.

From the Ice Age to the oil age
Norway’s population is believed to have sprung up first immediately after the Ice Age, but the numbers were small. For several thousand years, researchers believe, very few people lived in the area that later became Norway.

By the dawn of the Viking Age around 800AD, the population is believed to have risen to around 80,000, and to 200,000 by the end of the Viking Age around 1050. Icelandic historian Jon Vidar Sigurdsson, a professor at the University of Oslo, wrote in a book chronicling Norway’s history from 800 to 1536 that Norway had a population of around 500,000 in 1300. Much of it was wiped out, however, in the plague.

SSB researchers use a figure of 440,000 during the mid-1600s, with Norway breaking through the 1- million mark in the early 1800s and the 2-million mark around 1890. It would have been higher had it not been for the emigration Norway experienced from the mid- to late-1800s, when as many as 800,000 Norwegians headed abroad, many to the US.

Despite the war and German occupation, Norway surpassed 3 million in 1942, and 4 million in 1975. The population growth to 5 million reflects a fertility rate that currently is among the highest in Europe, with every woman in giving birth on average to 1.95 children. That’s up from 1.66 in the mid-1980s.

Politics fueling fertility
“The rise in fertility probably reflects Norwegian family and welfare policies including paid maternity and paternity leave, the availability of day care centers and many women working part-time,” Helge Brunborg, a senior researcher at SSB, told Aftenposten.

Longer life spans are another key factor, with girls born today expected to live an average of 83 years and boys 79 years. That’s up from 73 years for boys as late as 1990, with Brunborg saying that life expectancy has increased steadily not least because of better public health care and anti-smoking measures in Norway since the early 1990s.

Immigration has increased sharply since 2000, according to SSB, with immigrants making up 12.2 percent of the population on January 1 last year, or around 600,000 persons from 215 different countries. Most of Norway’s immigrants in recent years have come from Poland, Sweden and Pakistan, with most of them settling in Oslo, followed by the counties of Rogaland on the west coast and Akershus.

SSB could also report that there now are around 2.2 million households in Norway, with an average of 2.2 persons in each. That’s down from an average of six persons per household in 1920.

Many people also live alone in Norway, with 23 percent of all men and 22 percent of all women over the age of 16 on their own. Four out of 10 households are made up of single persons.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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