In summer 2018, the City of Helsinki made a population projection for the capital and the entire Helsinki Region. In November, Statistics Finland published a national projection, and will publish separate projections for Finnish municipalities in autumn 2019. The City of Helsinki has, however, used its own projection for city planning, since Statistics Finland publishes the municipal projections only at 3–4-year intervals. Helsinki’s own projection makes it possible to account more accurately for, for example, the outlook of construction and its role for future population growth. Besides the “most likely” scenario, the City of Helsinki’s projections have, for the last 25 years, presented two alternative scenarios: slow growth and rapid growth. The latest City of Helsinki projection has been drawn up independently of the Statistics Finland projection and is uninfluenced by it.
The present article estimates how the situation in the Helsinki Region and Helsinki proper may develop as compared with the projected development in the rest of Finland (according to Statistics Finland’s new projection). Although the projection of the City and that of Statistics Finland have been made from slightly different premises and their assumptions and grounds are not identical, we may yet draw certain conclusions about how the population and different age groups in Helsinki and the Helsinki Region are going to develop compared with the rest of Finland. Predictions can also be made about the impact of foreign migration on the population changes in the region and Finland at large. Since the different parts of Finland – large and medium-size cities and rural areas – are developing in markedly different directions, this article will compare Helsinki and the Helsinki Region with the average for the rest of Finland.
During the last few decades, annual population growth in Finland has varied between 10,000 and 30,000. It was at its strongest in the early 1980s and 1990s, and again in 2005–2017 as a consequence of fast-growing immigration. In 2017, Finland’s population growth amounted to 9,833. Since 1970, it has been equally low only once.
During the last ten years, population growth has been rapid in the Helsinki Region, peaking at nearly 19,000 in 2016. Helsinki itself has also had rapid population growth in recent years, after the former migration loss to the outer Helsinki Region turned into an average annual gain of 8,000 people in 2012–2017. In Finland outside the Helsinki Region, aggregate population growths have been negative since 2015.
In Finland as a whole, population growth is expected to continue until 2035. In Helsinki and the Helsinki Region, the growth is likely to continue all the way to 2050 – the end of the projection period – albeit slightly slower than at present. In the rest of Finland, the population is set to decline throughout the projection period (2018–2050) by a total of 400,000, assuming that the predictions for the whole country and the Helsinki Region hold good.
Figure 1. Population change in Finland and the Helsinki Region in 1980–2017, and projection until 2050, according to Statistics Finland and City of Helsinki Executive Office.
Births and fertility
In 2016, natural population growth turned negative as the number of births fell rapidly. During the period 1990–2017, the excess of births over deaths in Finland was 260,000. The last projection forecasts that during a corresponding period ahead, i.e. up until 2045, there will be 360,000 more deaths than births.
Between the peak year 2010, and 2017, the number of births in Finland had decreased by 10,700, or 17 per cent. In Helsinki, the number of births fell by only 143 (2%), and in the Helsinki Region by 1,660 (10%), but in Finland outside the Helsinki Region by no less than 9,000, that is 20 per cent. Thus 85 per cent of the decrease in the number of babies born in Finland in the 2010s occurred outside the Helsinki Region.
Statistics Finland’s projection for all Finland is based on the assumption that in future, fertility will remain constant. The total fertility rate 1.45 is almost the same as the estimate of the level in 2018. In the City of Helsinki projection, fertility rates have been calculated for the years 2015–2017, and this average is used as an assumption for the whole projection period. The same method has been used by Statistics Finland in their earlier projections. This is how Statistics Finland describes the assumed birth and death rates:
Statistics Finland’s population projections are long-term projections. Therefore, they do not always give a reliable picture of e.g. the number of births or deaths in the coming years. Since the 1970s the birth rate has fluctuated up and down so that the total fertility rate has varied between 1.49 (2017) and 1.87 (2010). In population projections fertility has been kept constant at some average or initial level, because it would be impossible to guess the turning points in development. Likewise, mortality has fallen quickly at times and slowly at others. In the projections, the change coefficients for mortality have been calculated for around 20-year periods so that they would include periods of both quick and slower decrease.
In the City projection, the assumed fertility rate for the Helsinki Region is 1.43 – thus slightly more prudent than in the Statistics Finland projection – and 1.25 for the Helsinki itself. The assumed decrease in mortality in the Helsinki Region is the same in the city’s latest projection as in Statistics Finland’s projection made in 2015.
Figure 2. Numbers of births in Finland and in the Helsinki Region in 1980–2017, and 2018–2050 projections by Statistics Finland and the City of Helsinki (2018)
Figure 3. Fertility trends in Finland and the Helsinki Region 1985–2017, and the assumptions used in the projections by Statistics Finland and the City of Helsinki
Finland’s net immigration in 1990–2017 totalled 270,000 people. In the Statistics Finland projection, the estimate for 2018–2045, a period of corresponding length, is even higher, namely 420,000.
Since immigration is not going to compensate for the decline in natural population growth, Finland’s population is projected to start decreasing in 2035. Figure 4 describes the future trend in the country as a whole. For population growth to continue, annual net immigration should increase from 15,000 in 2035 to 23,000 in 2050. Figure 4 also shows the level of net immigration that would enable total population growth to remain at the current rate until 2050. Immigration should increase to 20,000 immediately and, in order to reach 38,000 by 2050, it should continue to rise.
Figure 4. Net immigration, natural population growth and population change in Finland 1980–2017, and the Statistics Finland projection to 2050
In the projection made by the City, the Helsinki Region is predicted to have distinctive population growth all the way to 2050. It is expected that the population of the Helsinki Region would constitute no less than one third of the entire population of Finland by the early 2040s.
Figure 5. The population proportion of Helsinki and the Helsinki Region of the entire population of Finland in 1980–2017, and the projection to 2050 by the City of Helsinki
Working-age population trend
Statistics Finland predicts that Finland’s working-age population would decline by 184,000, or 6 per cent, by 2050. The City of Helsinki projection predicts that this population segment would have grown by over 200,000 in the Helsinki Region, of which almost 100,000 in Helsinki proper.
Thus, according to the projections, the number of people of working age (18 to 64 years) would develop completely differently in the Helsinki Region and the rest of Finland on average. In the rest of Finland, the working-age population would decline owing to the age structure and migration to the Helsinki Region. If the City of Helsinki projection holds good, the Helsinki Region’s proportion of the working-age population in Finland will grow from 29 per cent today to 37 per cent by 2050. The proportion of Helsinki proper would grow from 13 per cent today to 17 per cent.
Figure 6 describes the development also as it appears in Statistics Finland’s latest municipality-level projection made in 2015. In that projection, Statistics Finland estimated that the number of the working-age population (18-to-64-year-olds) in the Helsinki Region would develop slightly slower than predicted in the most recent City of Helsinki projection. Furthermore, it was prognosticated that the population in the rest of Finland would start to grow again in 2034, since Statistics Finland had predicted that the working-age population would return to an upward trend that year. However, in Statistics Finland’s new projection, the working-age population of Finland in 2040 would be no less than 85,000 people smaller than in the previous one, and thus the age group of 18-to-64-year-olds would continue to decline in the rest of Finland – assuming that the projections of both Statistics Finland and the City of Helsinki hold good.
Figure 6. Number of people of working age (18–64 years) in the Helsinki Region and the rest of Finland 1980–2017, and projection to 2050 (according to City of Helsinki 2018 projection and Statistics Finland 2015 and 2018 projections)
In the Helsinki Region, the number of people of working age is predicted to have grown by 212,000 by 2050. In the rest of Finland, however, it is expected to have declined by almost 400,000 by 2050. The 18–64-year-olds’ proportion of the population of Helsinki would remain at almost the same level as today, namely 64 per cent, while in the entire Helsinki Region, it would be 60 per cent in 2050. In all of Finland, people of working age represent a mere 59 per cent of the population today, and this proportion is expected to decline to 56 per cent.
Figure 7. Age structure of the population in Helsinki, the Helsinki Region and all Finland in 2017, and projection to 2050 (City of Helsinki and Statistics Finland).
In the Helsinki Region, growth in the working-age population is strongly based on immigration. In the 2000s, 45 per cent of Finland’s net migration has come directly to the Helsinki Region. A comparison between the projections of Statistics Finland and that of the City of Helsinki for 2018–2030 shows a decrease in the Helsinki Region’s share of Finland’s net migration gain, but it is projected to remain above 40 per cent. Almost half of the net migration to the region will be received by the capital Helsinki.
Migration assumptions in the population projections
Of the total net migration of the Helsinki Region in the 2010s, 86 per cent consists of people with a foreign mother tongue. The proportion of those with a domestic mother tongue (Finnish, Swedish or Sami) has grown slightly in recent years, standing at 27 per cent of the total net migration in 2017. It is noteworthy that half of the region’s net migration gain from the rest of Finland in the 2010s has consisted of people with a foreign mother tongue. While the proportion of those with a domestic mother tongue has grown, it was still only 55 per cent of the region’s net migration gain in 2015–2017.
Figure 8. Net migration to Finland and the Helsinki Region in 2000–2017 and a projection to 2030
In 2010–2017, people with a foreign mother tongue made up two-thirds of Helsinki’s total net migration gain, and 20 per cent of the city’s net domestic migration gain. This is largely due to the fact that one-third of Helsinki’s average annual net migration loss (of 1,500 people) to the other municipalities of the region consisted of people with a foreign mother tongue. Thus, the majority of the growth in the region’s population with a foreign mother tongue comes via Helsinki.
Figure 9. Domestic and international net migration in Helsinki and the Helsinki Region, by mother-tongue category in 2000–2017
Over the last ten years, the Helsinki Region’s net international migration gain of foreign nationals has amounted to an annual average of 7,000. In the projection made by the City of Helsinki, the assumption is that the region’s net migration gain will remain near the current level. Since 2013, the migration gain from Estonia has lost its former significance and declined close to nil. The number of asylum seekers is also back at the pre-2015 level. However, the number of immigrants in total continues to grow, and this growth originates from Asia, in particular. The projection also assumes that work-related immigration will grow as the working-age population declines in Finland.
The net migration gain from the rest of Finland has grown very rapidly in the 2010s. In 2016 and 2017 it grew because part of the asylum seekers who came to Finland in 2015 moved from the rest of Finland to the Helsinki Region after receiving a residence permit. Nonetheless, the projection assumes that the net migration gain from the rest of Finland will decrease as the younger adult age groups – more prone to moving – decline in numbers.
For more detailed information on the underlying assumptions of the City of Helsinki projection, as well as considerations on the alternative demographic trends in the region, please refer to the report by Laakso (2012). This report was prepared as background material for the latest Master Plan of the City of Helsinki.
Figure 10. The Helsinki Region’s net migration by direction in 2000–2017 and the projection by the City of Helsinki
Projected child population
Ever since 1994, the numbers of children have been falling in Finland. Due to decreasing nativity, the child population is set to decline particularly fast around 2030. Within ten years from now, 0–17-year-olds are estimated to be 100,000 fewer than today in Finland outside the Helsinki Region. The size of the decrease would be equal to the number of all 0–17-year-olds living in Helsinki today.
In Helsinki, the situation is different. The number of children has grown rapidly in the 2010s, and that increase is expected to continue into the 2030s. In the Helsinki Region, too, child population increase is set to continue.
Figure 11. Numbers of 0–17-year-olds in Finland and the Helsinki Region in 1980–2017 and projection to 2050
Figure 12. Population aged 0–17 in Finland and the Helsinki Region, change 2010–2017 and projection to 2050. Index, 2010 = 100
The Helsinki Region’s and Helsinki’s proportion of all children in Finland is set to grow rapidly, despite the fact that the fertility assumption for the Helsinki Region in Statistics Finland’s projection is slightly lower than that given for the whole of Finland. This is due to migration and the fact that the region has a younger age structure with fertile age groups constantly moving into the region.
The region’s proportion of all Finnish children of early childhood education age is predicted to grow from 29 per cent today to 35 per cent within less than ten years. The proportion of the 7–17-year-olds would grow almost as rapidly: in the early 2030s, one-third of Finnish children in this age group would live in the Helsinki Region.
Figure 13. Helsinki’s and the Helsinki Region’s proportion of all 0–17-year-olds in Finland 1980–2017 and projection to 2050
Projections for population aged 65 or older
Since the early 2010s, the number of those aged 65 or older has been increasing more and more rapidly in Finland, as the numerous post-war “baby boomers” have moved into retirement age.
Figure 14. Number of people aged 65 or older in Finland and the Helsinki Region in 1980–2017 and projection to 2050
Although the Helsinki Region has a young age structure, the large population growth in the region also implies that the pensioner age group grows relatively faster than in the rest of Finland. While the number of over-65-year-olds in all Finland increases by more than one-third between 2017 and 2050, this increase is 80 per cent in the Helsinki Region and 60 per cent in Helsinki. In the rest of Finland, it is only 23 per cent.
Figure 15. Number of over-65-year-olds in Finland and the Helsinki Region in 2010–2017 and projection to 2050. Index, 2017 = 100
However, the Helsinki Region is in a better position than the rest of Finland to care for the elderly. The dependency ratio is more favourable owing to in-migration and the continuously younger age structure of the region’s population.
The old-age dependency ratio, especially, has deteriorated rapidly in Finland over the 2010s. In Finland outside the Helsinki Region it is set to rise from 40 per cent today to 60 per cent by 2050. In Helsinki proper, however, it is expected to rise only modestly, and only slightly more in the entire Helsinki Region.
In Figure 16, dependency ratio refers to the relation between the numbers of those aged 0–17 or 65+ and those in the 18–64-old age group. By old-age dependency ratio we mean the relationship between the 65+ year-olds and the 18–64-year-olds.
Figure 16. Dependency ratio and old-age dependency ratio in Finland and the Helsinki Region in 1980–2017 and projection to 2050
Since such a large proportion of population growth in the Helsinki Region comes from international migration, an important question is how good are the immigrants’ employment opportunities and how the demographic dependency ratio is reflected in the economic dependency ratio.
Summary and conclusions
Of the total net migration into Finland, 40 per cent is predicted to come directly to the Helsinki Region, and half of these people to the city of Helsinki itself. In addition, half of the region’s net migration gain from the rest of Finland in 2010–2017 consisted of people with a foreign background, and this trend seems to be continuing. All in all, up to 85 per cent of the total net migration gain of the Helsinki Region in the 2010s has consisted of people with a foreign background.
However, the projection made by the City of Helsinki assumes that migration from the rest of Finland to the Helsinki Region will gradually decline, since the most migration-prone age groups in the rest of Finland are rapidly decreasing in numbers, particularly so in the 2030s.
In the light of the new projections, the working-age population outside the Helsinki Region seems to be declining faster than earlier estimated. In Statistics Finland’s new projection for all of Finland, the working-age population in 2040 will be smaller by 85,000 than in the earlier forecast, and this decrease seems to occur exclusively in the rest of Finland, outside the Helsinki Region.
While the number of children is falling rapidly in the rest of Finland, it is still rising rapidly in the Helsinki Region and especially in Helsinki itself. Although nativity may continue to decrease more than predicted, the number of children will be raised by migration and the young age structure of the adult population.
The number of old-age pensioners is growing rapidly in Finland. Since population growth in Helsinki and the Helsinki Region has been – and will remain – rapid, the proportion of pensioners among the population grows faster than in the rest of Finland. However, as migration brings young people to the Helsinki Region, the old-age dependency ratio is expected to deteriorate significantly slower in Helsinki and the Helsinki Region than in the rest of Finland.
The extent to which those moving to Finland from abroad can compensate for the rapid decrease in the working-age population largely depends on the resources allocated for immigrants’ integration and education in the Helsinki Region and especially its core area, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (Espoo, Helsinki, Kauniainen and Vantaa).
Pekka Vuori is a population projection specialist at the City of Helsinki Executive Office.
City of Helsinki (2018a). Helsingin ja Helsingin seudun väestöennuste 2018–2050 ja ennuste alueittain 2018–2030. Statistics 2018:18, City of Helsinki Executive Office.
City of Helsinki (2018b). Helsingin väestö vuodenvaihteessa 2017/2018 ja väestönmuutokset vuonna 2017. Statistics 2018:20, City of Helsinki Executive Office.
Laakso, Seppo (2012): Helsingin seudun ja Helsingin väestökehitys. Toteutunut väestönkasvu ja projektiot vuoteen 2050. Helsingin kaupunkisuunnitteluviraston yleissuunnitteluosaston selvityksiä 2012:3. Helsinki City Planning Department.
Statistics Finland (2018). Väestöennuste 2018–2070.
The article also draws on population statistics procured from Statistics Finland by the City of Helsinki Executive Office. These statistics are published in the Helsinki Region Statistical Database (www.aluesarjat.fi). In addition, population statistics from Statistics Finland’s StatFin database have been used.