Depopulation and Rural Development in Sweden

Depopulation and Rural Development in Sweden


“Depopulation” refers to a process in which the population density of an area decreases steadily over time. Depopulation is a phenomenon that started taking place at the beginning of the century in Sweden. Sweden is one of the most sparsely countries populated in Europe and where the phenomenon is also observed. Even though the overall population of the country keeps increasing, the number of inhabitants residing in certain peripheral municipalities decreases. The notions of rural population decline and urbanization are closely intertwined with one another. In modern society moving from the countryside to metropolitan areas and university cities is very common. Especially younger generations are the ones that mostly choose to move from rural to urban areas in order to chase both better education and career opportunities. More people live in urban than rural areas. This is because of the advantages that urban areas give. But it also has a negative effect, named depopulation in rural areas and with it, the economic decline.

Regarding statistics in Sweden, in Åre, a municipality that belongs to Jämtland County, from 1950 the population was 12.498 and in 2000 the population decreased to 9.745. From 2007 to 2017 the population it start growing. Sweden is growing, but the increase in population is mainly concentrated in the largest cities, according to Statistics Sweden’s latest statistics.

Sweden is one of the world’s most urbanized communities. 87 percent of the population live in cities or towns. About half of the country’s municipalities are experiencing depopulation.

The phenomenon is not unique to Sweden. Modernity and urbanization go hand in hand, all over the world. Population development consists of born, dead, immigrated and emigrated.

Without immigrants Sweden’s population would decline and so will be depopulation. Immigrant play a major role in the Swedish labor market.

Rural development

Rural population in Sweden was reported at 1392804 in 2016, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources. Rural population refers to people living in rural areas as defined by national statistical offices. It is calculated as the difference between total population and urban population. Rural development is a complex notion as are the rural world and the social and economic phenomena contained therein.

During the past decades immigration to Sweden has increased sharply and this has had an impact on urban as well as rural population development. Rural areas have been depopulated rapidly and farming and forestry used to be dominant in rural economy.

Rural Development in Sweden is managed nationally through one Rural Development Programme (RDP), funded under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and national contributions. The RDP sets out priority approaches and actions to meet the needs of the specific geographical area it covers.

Rural development funding through the EAFRD is part of a broader framework of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds), including also Regional Development, Social, Cohesion, and Fisheries Funds. These are managed nationally, by each EU Member State, on the basis of Partnership Agreements, strategic plans outlining the country’s goals and investment priorities.

In addition to the LEADER Community Initiative, Rural Development became part, since 1988, of one of the priority policies of the European Union like the Regional Policy. The objective of this Policy was to enhance economic and social cohesion in the EU, reducing development disparities among regions. This policy was financed through the Structural Funds, whose 1988 reform changes Rural Development into a priority action objective of these financial instruments.

The population change 1990-2008 shows that 87 percent of Sweden’s population lives in functional analysis (FA) regions with a population larger than 100,000. Nearly half of the population is concentrated to the three largest FA regions of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. According to the Swedish National Rural Development Agency, nearly 77 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. The areas designated as rural areas near urban areas are home to 21 percent of the population, while barely 2 percent of the total population, or 175,000 people, lived in sparsely populated areas in 2008. The number of immigrants who want to settle in the Swedish countryside has increased strongly and that shows that without immigration, rural development decreases.


  2. Afroditi M., “The phenomenon of rural depopulation in the Swedish landscape Turning the trends” Karlskrona Sweden, 2018