Norway Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Norway consists mainly of ethnic Norwegians and a small group of people people related to Finns and Hungarians. Nearly a fifth of Norway is composed of migrants. Learn more about Norway's ethnic diversity in this lesson.

Friday Night in Grunnerlokka


If you took a trip to Norway and got to do some people watching on a Friday night, it wouldn't be uncommon to see young Norwegians heading out from their Lithuanian and Polish-built new apartments with Danish design for a night on the town.

They might head to a party in 'Grunnerlokka', a neighborhood just a little northeast of the center of Norway's capital city, Oslo. Dressed in Norwegian-designed but usually Pakistani or Vietnamese-sewn top brands like 'Moods of Norway' and Swedish H & M, the trendsetters meet up at Ethiopian, Turkish, and Thai restaurants, usually served by Swedish waiters.

Then the night really begins, and the hipsters go dancing at clubs that play Afro and Arabic mixes with the best of music from Scandinavia, the US, and the United Kingdom.

In a way, this hip, fun neighborhood is a picture of ethnic groups in Norway. With a population of over 5 million people, the largest ethnic group is ethnic Norwegians, at about 80% of the people. These people are of Germanic descent and related to Scandinavian tribes that also inhabited what is now Sweden and Denmark.

Overview of Norwegian Ethnic Groups


In the northern part of Norway, there are communities of Sami people.

The Sami (also known as Lapps) are native to northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. They make up less than 1% of the Norwegian population, but are one of the largest communities of Sami people in the world. Of the remaining 19%, most are migrants (about 800,000 people) with the rest identifying as children of one migrant parent.

In Norway, most of people are registered at birth as part of the Church of Norway (Lutheran), though church attendance is some of the lowest in the world. Catholics, Muslims, make up only a small percentage of the population.

Ethnic Sami, 1900


Norway was for centuries a junior part of a union with Denmark and later, for most of the 19th century, a union with Sweden. These unions had a role in Norwegian language and culture and also marriage and ethnic composition. Indeed, the king of modern Norway, King Harald V, is ethnically a Germanic Dane. His father and grandfather were born in Denmark.

Between 1850 to the early 20th century, around 800,000 ethnic Norwegians emigrated from Norway, primarily to the United States. This was due to the lack of farmland, inadequate food supply and diminished economic opportunities. Norway also used asetesrett, a law that said the oldest son inherited all property, especially if it was farmland. This law provided limited choices for males born after the first son. This migration created one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States at the time.


The discovery of oil increased the economic wealth of Norway, and the advent of an advanced oil refinery and technology system began to reverse the flow of migration. From the 1970s, immigration has been the major factor in an increase of the population of Norway. Significant wars, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanon Civil War, the Bosnian War, and most recently the Syrian Civil War have also increased the flow of refugees to Norway and changed the ethnic composition.

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