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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Population: demographic situation, languages and religions


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 27 November 2023

Demographic Situation

Sweden’s land area is about 450 000 km2 with a distance between the extreme northern and southern points of almost 1 600 km. Geographically Sweden is dominated by forests, lakes and rivers, but with a great variation in landscape, temperature and natural resources, affecting conditions for industry, agriculture etc. The border to Norway runs parallel to a range of mountains. There are thousands of islands off the 2 700 km long coast. The cultivated area amounts to around ten per cent of the land surface area.

In 2019 the total population in Sweden amounted to 10 327 589 inhabitants. The population is very unevenly distributed over the country with most of the people aggregated to the southern third of the country. The average population density for Sweden is 25.4 inhabitants per km(2019).

The number of Swedes living in densely populated areas has increased steadily, and even some of the densely populated areas have experienced difficulties in trying to stem the outflow of people. However, the greatest difficulties are experienced in sparsely populated areas with poor transportations and few employment opportunities. Irrespective of where they live, all children and young people in Sweden must have equal access to the public education system, meaning the municipality must provide daily transportations if compulsory school education cannot be given within a certain distance from where a child lives. In upper secondary school pupils may have to commute to a bigger town.

Population Distributed by Age

Life expectancy in Sweden was 84.7 years for women and 81.3 years for men in 2019. Sweden is to some extent facing the same problem as most of Europe with an ageing population, although the birth rate is fairly high compared to many other countries.

2019 2010 2000
10 327 589
9 415 570
8 882 792
Live births
114 523
115 641
90 441
88 766
90 487
93 461
Persons <18  2 180 508 (21.1%) 1 919 094 (20.4%) 1 937 779 (21.8%)

Persons >64

2 065 367 (20.0%) 1 737 246 (18.5%) 1 530 887 (17.2%)

Source: Statistics Sweden


Rates of employment and unemployment (population aged 15 - 74, percentage).

  2019 2010  2001
Employed 68.3 % 64.4 %  67.1 %
Unemployed 6.8 % 8.6 % 5.8 %

Source: Statistics Sweden

Immigration and Emigration

Immigration has fluctuated greatly during the post-war era, in some years exceeding the number of births.

2019 2016 2010
Immigration (persons)
115 805 163 005 98 801
58 659
Emigration (persons)
47 718 45 878 48 853
34 091
Foreign born
2 019 733 1 784 497 1 384 929 1 003 798
Foreign born, % of total population
19.6% 17.9% 14.7% 11.3%

Source: Statistics Sweden

Official and Minority Languages

The official language in Sweden is Swedish. In some parts of northern Sweden, Sami and Tornedal Finnish (Meänkieli) are spoken. There are five official minority languages: Sami and Tornedal Finnish (autochthonous languages) and Finnish, Romany and Yiddish (non-territorial languages). To a certain extent citizens have the right to use these languages in their dealings with the authorities and courts. In certain areas, they have the right to childcare and care of the elderly in Finnish and Sami. Sami speaking children can choose between attending compulsory school (grundskola) or Sami School (sameskola), with tuition until school year six in both Swedish and Sami.

Since the Second World War, increasing immigration to Sweden has led to the emergence of a number of minority groups with languages other than Swedish as their mother tongue. Children who speak a language other than Swedish at home are offered mother tongue tuition (modersmålsundervisning) in compulsory school and upper secondary school.

Most spoken languages

The most spoken languages in Sweden have changed during the latest decades due to immigration. 

  2019 2012 2006
The most spoken Swedish Swedish Swedish
2nd most spoken Arabic Finnish Finnish
3rd most spoken Finnish Arabic Serbo-Croatian

Source: Språktidningen


Christianity came to Sweden as early as the 9th century mainly as a result of an expansion in trade. The ancient Nordic religions were slowly replaced. Several centuries later all monarchs were Christian and Christianity became the established official religion. The church belonged to the international Catholic Church until 1527 when the Swedish state church was established as a Protestant church based on Lutheran principles.

In 1951 legislation on religious freedom was enacted, allowing citizens to leave the state church without entering another religious community. Previously, it was allowed to leave the state church, but only to engage in another community. The role of the Swedish church in society has since that changed in character: The majority of its members have nowadays little or no connection with regular worship at church services. Earlier, all children born in Sweden automatically became members of the Swedish state church, but since 1995 only those christened become members. The 1st of January 2000, the Church of Sweden separated from the state and there is no longer a State church in Sweden.

Recent decades have seen an increase in religious diversity. As a consequence of immigration the Roman Catholic Church, different Orthodox churches as well as non-Christian religions such as Islam and Buddhism have expanded. Jewish communities have existed in Sweden since the end of the 18th century.

The largest religious communities in Sweden in 2016 were:

  1. Church of Sweden  6.0 million members
  2. Islam 154 000 members
  3. Orthodox Christian 147 000 members
  4. Roman Catholic 124 000 members