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Statistically relevant

Greenland’s officially ‘unchanged’ population figure overshadows other demographic trends
Young Greenlandic boys strike a pose
The ghost of a population yet to come (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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Greenland’s population 1977-2017
1977    49,717
1978    49,147
1979    49,337
1980    49,773
1981    50,643
1982    51,435
1983    51,903
1984    52,347
1985    52,940
1986    53,406
1987    53,733
1988    54,524
1989    55,170
1990    55,557
1991    55,616
1992    55,381
1993    55,113
1994    55,415
1995    55,728
1996    55,859
1997    55,967
1998    56,072
1999    56,084
2000    56,121
2001    56,242
2002    56,512
2003    56,675
2004    56,825
2005    56,969
2006    56,899
2007    56,645
2008    56,458
2009    56,193
2010    56,452
2011    56,615
2012    56,749
2013    56,370
2014    56,282
2015    55,984
2016    55,847
2017    55,860
Source: Kalaallit Nunaanni Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik

Statistically speaking, Greenland’s population growth in 2016 was insignificant.

Figures released last week by Kalaallit Nunaanni Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik, the national statistics agency, in a publication headlined ‘Unchanged population’, show that the country’s population rose by 13 individuals in 2016 (bringing the number to 55,860).

The figures, despite their lack of statistical significance, were relevant in other ways. As in recent years, more people were born (830) than died (487). Known as the natural increase, this was lower than in 2015, but, when immigration is figured in, 2016 turned out to be the first time in five years the population grew.

DOWNLOAD: Greenlandic statistical annual

After reaching a high point of 56,969 in 2005, the number of Greenlanders has been on a general decline ever since. The 2015 population figure was the lowest in 20 years. (See chart at right.)

And while the ‘unchanged’ description applies to the population as a whole, the past year saw some noteworthy trends, including a persistent gap between the size of the male and female populations (29,493 men, compared with 26,367 women), although 2016 saw a slight improvement in this figure.

More people also continued to emigrate than immigrate, though the discrepancy was smaller than in recent years, as fewer people left the country.

The foreign-born population (born outside the kingdom of Denmark) has risen steadily since 2006, and now stands at 1,057. More than half (670) come from North America and Europe, but the largest group, making up 15% of foreigners, comes from the Philippines (195). The second largest comes from Thailand (176).

SEE RELATED: Expansion capital

For Nuuk, the numbers would seem to support the need for a new housing development unveiled last week in preparation for significant population growth in the coming two decades.

Nuuk’s population grew by 284 last year, mostly through births. While this growth was less than the 316 people the city added in 2015, it continues a string of unbroken growth that goes back to 1977, the first year Kalaallit Nunaanni Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik began record keeping. At that time, Nuuk had 8,545 residents or 17% of the population. Today, there are 17,316 Nuummiut, or 31% of the population.

Nuuk’s growth stands in contrast to population loss in other areas, most notably settlements, populated places that have between 50 and 500 residents, which continued a decline that has seen the number of residents fall from over 11,000 in 1977 to 7,356 last year. Settlement populations in three of the country’s four municipal districts shrunk considerably last year.

Socially speaking, the changes may not have been so insignificant after all.