Sweden Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Sweden, a country in Scandinavia in northern Europe, is made of mostly ethnic Swedes, Finns, Danes and Sami people. Sweden, until recently has encouraged large waves of immigration that have dramatically changed its ethnic composition.

Arriving at Malmo Station

Malmo Station
Malmo station

When you arrive at Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, by train, amazing moving images of scenes from around Sweden are shown on the back wall of the train platform. This unusual visual feature makes Malmo station quite a sight. Swedes, Finns and Danes run to catch trains driven by Bosnians, Lebanese and Turks. Up the escalator, food stands and restaurants are staffed by Poles and most recently Syrians, who don't speak much Swedish but try. Outside the station, taxis driven usually by Somalis or Ethiopians take you the rest of the way to your destination.

Overview of Sweden's Ethnic Groups


Malmo station is a good picture of the ethnic groups in Sweden. With a population of over 9.5 million, the largest ethnic group in Sweden is ethnic Swedes. These people are of Germanic descent and related to Scandinavians that also inhabited what is now Norway and Denmark. Sweden has a large population of ethnic Finns, numbering about 5% of the population, and Danes, a little less than 1% of the population. Sweden has had a long history with what is today modern Finland and Denmark. Finland was once part of Sweden, and even though Denmark has fought many wars with Sweden, it is a short train ride from Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, to Malmo. Finns and Danes have been attracted to Sweden for many reasons, including economic opportunities and intermarriage.

In addition to Finns and Danes, Sweden has a large community of Sami, or indigenous ethnic Finno-Ugric people, a branch of the human family language and ethnic tree that includes Finns, Hungarians and Estonians. However, the Sami make up less than .3% of the population and mostly live in Sweden's rather empty northern corridor between Norway and Finland.

Emigration and Immigration Change Sweden's Ethnic Groups

At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, it is estimated that 1.3 million ethnic Swedes migrated to the United States and Canada. Drawn by religious freedom, economic opportunities, possibilities for land acquisition, and a history of Swedish colonization in the new world, Swedes established large communities primarily in the American mid-west. This migration was so dramatic that it was instrumental in Swedish reform of its political, educational and economic system to mirror the United States in an attempt to stop mass migration.

This reform may have been instrumental in helping to develop Sweden as a migrant focal point. After these reforms, Sweden enjoyed remarkable gains in its economy and quality of life, and managed to sit out World War II (1939-1945) as a neutral nation. After World War II, with most of Europe in ruins, Swedish industry found itself in a pole position for economic growth. This, assisted with liberal migrant and asylum laws, has promoted Sweden as a destination of choice for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

A pull to Sweden: Swedish meatballs

It is estimated that Sweden accepts on average over 100,000 migrants a year. This has stopped a fall in population even with a declining birth rate. As a member of the European Union and the Schengen area, which allows for freedom of not only travel but the movement of goods, services and people, large groups of Poles and Germans reside in Sweden. However, Sweden has also been a beacon of tolerance for most refugees, and there are large groups of Iraqis, Ethiopians, Iranians and Somalis. Sweden also has some of the largest groups from the former Yugoslavia in Europe, including Bosnians, Slovenes, Serbs and Croats. Sweden also hosts large communities of Assyrian Christians from Lebanon, Romany (also known as gypsies) and Turks.

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