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Old people and politics

| By Berit Kvam

The Faroe Islands want to tempt women to move back home. There is a female deficit. Like in many more remote areas in the Nordic region, there is a demographic imbalance. Young people are drawn to urban areas, and the older grow older still. Can migrants fill the holes in the labour market as the health and care sectors’ responsibilities grow? “The hundred-year-wave hits the Nordic labour market” is this issue's theme.

Finland celebrates its centenary in 2017. One month after the birth of the nation, little Vappu was born in Punkalaidun. “Turning 100 is nothing special. It is when you child turns 73 that you realise you are old,” she tells our correspondent Bengt Östling. She stopped going to the gym at 97, and now needs a walking frame and home care three times a day. 

30 percent of the Punkalaidun residents are over 65, the pensionable age in Finland. The country’s average is 20 percent. Politicians in rural areas are now trying to get new residents to settle in the villages. Punkalaidun is one of the small municipalities which struggle to maintain a population of 3,000 people. Refugees have become an invaluable resource both in the labour market and for the local environment.

The Faroe Islands will soon count 50,000 citizens. A longed for milestone. Politicians have poured resources into transport, road and tunnel construction, to make it easier to move between the islands. In this way they have managed to tempt men into jobs in their home country. But other measures are needed to tempt educated urban women to move to remoter parts of the Nordics. The population of Greenland is shrinking. On 20 January Sweden, the most populous of the Nordic countries, passed 10 million citizens after a dramatic population rise. In 13 years the country went from nine to ten million people, while it took 35 years to go from eight to nine million. 

The total Nordic population is now 26.5 million people. Urban areas are seeing the largest growth. Which problems does that cause? Our greatest challenge going forward is not the refugees, but how we recruit labour, says the head of integration in Krokom municipality. Together with neighbouring Åre municipality in Sweden, she is racing to get refugees into work. She is convinced they need to succeed with integrating newcomers in order to meet the future need for labour.

Many immigrants are needed to solve the generation challenge. Migration helps, but it is but one of the solutions to the future labour needs, says Nordregio’s Timothy Heleniak, who together with Nordic colleagues recently finished the project ‘Demography and welfare’.

The demographic challenges include finding the right balance between genders, young and old, births and deaths, immigration and emigration. These are complex issues which are difficult to measure and to predict. Sweden’s rapid population growth only hints at the unpredictability of the estimates, as we show in this month's Theme.

Like the Faroe Islands need women, rural areas like Punkalaidun and Krokom need to attract new residents. If nothing is done the more remote places will loose the competition for labour.

Timothy Heleniak is onto something. There is a need for a plethora of measures, not least improved methods for how to validate newcomers’ skills. There is a need for jobs and a social life, and like the Faroese they need to work to get the women back to the remoter parts of the Nordics.

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