The Impact of Migration on the Population of Sweden

Lena Lundkvist, Statistics Sweden

In 1969, roughly 8 million people lived in Sweden, of whom nearly 500 000, or 6 percent, were born abroad. Since then, immigration to Sweden as well as emigration from here has increased. During the period 1970–2015, 2.8 million people have immigrated while at the same time, 1.6 million people have emigrated. Migration has thus contributed to roughly 1 million more people in Sweden. Besides contributing to an increased population themselves, immigrants also contribute to the population with the children they give birth to in Sweden. Many people who immigrate are aged 20-35, but as these people grow older, the number of deaths is also affected.

This paper presents a hypothetical calculation of the population in Sweden 2015 if Sweden had completely closed borders since 1970. The number of births has been calculated using the observed age specific fertility rate and the number of deaths with the observed death risk respectively year.

The results show that without migration, Sweden would have had a stagnating population. The population in 2015 would largely look like the population in 1969, that is, nearly 2 million fewer persons than today. The age structure would have been different. Without immigration there had in 2015 been more aged over 65 than aged less than 20. The gender distribution is affected only marginally by migration.

For all the years since 1995 in our hypothetical population, fewer children were born than deaths occurred and the population had slowly begun to decrease. This decrease would have continued forever with an accelerated pace if childbirths had not increased.


In 1969, roughly 8 million people lived in Sweden, of whom nearly 500 000, or 6 percent, were born abroad. Since then, immigration to Sweden as well as emigration from here has increased. During the period 1970–2015, 2.8 million people have immigrated while at the same time, 1.6 million people have emigrated. Migration has thus contributed to roughly 1 million more people in Sweden. Besides contributing to an increased population themselves, immigrants also contribute to the population with the children they give birth to in Sweden. Many people who immigrate are aged 20-35, but as these people grow older, the number of deaths is also affected.

Today nearly 10 million people live in Sweden and over 1.6 million, or 17 percent are born abroad. Sweden has an aging population. The proportion that is over age 65 is increasing, at the same time as the proportion of children and young people is decreasing, while the share of those who are actively working remains constant. In the age group 20-64 years, the number and proportion of foreign born is highest. What would this development look like without migration?

To estimate this, a hypothetical calculation has been done for population development between 1970 and 2015 if Sweden had closed its borders completely. The calculation does not include any immigration to Sweden or emigration from Sweden, either by Swedish born persons or the foreign born persons who lived in Sweden in 1969. The number of persons born every year has been calculated with the observed age specific fertility rate and the number of deaths with the death risk of each year.

Without migration Sweden would have had a stagnating population. Without any migration, the population in 2015 would largely look like the population in 1969, that is, nearly 2 million fewer persons than today. The number of births would be lower and the difference from the actual population would increase for each year. The effect would also double after 25–35 years, when those who were born in the beginning of the period reach childbearing ages. In 2015, some 83 000 fewer children would have been born, compared to the actual figure for births at 115 000 during the year. However, the number of deaths would not have been affected, because most of the immigrants are of younger ages. Since the middle of the 1970s, roughly 90 000 persons have died each year, and that number would have been the same even without migration.

The reduced number of births means that there would have been about 500 000 fewer persons below age 20 than there are today. In addition, a reduced number of births after 20 years also leads to a reduced number of persons of economically active ages 20–64. This is the age group that is most affected by migration; in addition to the reduced inflow of persons aged 20, this age group is affected because most of the migrants are in this age group. This age group would be nearly one million fewer persons than it is today. The older age group would hardly be affected. Most persons who immigrate or emigrate are aged 20-35, and it is only 30–45 years after time of migration that those over age 65 are affected.

Since 1969 life expectancy in Sweden has increased; the number as well as the proportion of those age 65 and older has increased. Without immigration, the number of those over age 65 would have been just as large as today, but since the population had been smaller, this group would have comprised a larger part of the population: 24 percent compared with 20 percent as it is today. For those who are under age 20, the number is about the same in 2015 as in 1969, but without migration this group would have comprised more than 500 000 fewer, and the share would have been 20 percent, compared to 23 percent. This means that in 2015 without migration, more people would be over age 65 than those below age 20.

For all the years since 1995 in our hypothetical population, fewer children were born than deaths occurred and the population had slowly begun to decrease. This decrease would have continued forever with an accelerated pace if childbirths had not increased.

In a situation with a stagnating population, it is probable that fertility in particular, but also mortality, would have developed differently than what actually occurred. For example, in this situation, it is possible that there would have been changes in parental allowances to encourage more births.

Presented in Session 1232: Posters