How population development in Sweden would have been without the war in Syria

What would Sweden’s population development have been like if it wasn’t for the uprising against Assad and the following war in Syria? A new study in demography published in the academic journal PLOS ONE has the answer. In the study, the authors have created and calculated hypothetical scenarios to determine the demographic development in Sweden and Norway – without the immigration following the Syrian war.

– Our results show that without the Syrian civil war, 34 and 32 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities would have experienced population decline instead of an increase in 2016 and 2017, respectively. This means that the number of municipalities that experienced a population decrease was limited to 19 in 2016 and 63 in 2017. The number of municipalities that experienced a population increase was a total of 271 in 2016 and 226 in 2017, said Eleonora Mussino, co-author of the study and researcher in demography at the Stockholm University Demography Unit when we spoke to her earlier. 

The largest immigrant group in Sweden would still be of Finnish origin as of January 2019 without the Syrian war. Population growth in 2016 would have been roughly 36 % lower in Sweden. 

In Norway, population growth would have been about 26 percent lower. The number of births in 2017 would have been about 3 percent lower in Sweden and 1 percent lower in Norway without the immigration following the Syrian war.

– In our calculations, we have taken into account that some migration would have taken place from Syria to Sweden and Norway even in the absence of a war. We also account for births among those immigrant women estimated to have come due to the war, said Marianne Tønnessen, researcher in Demography at Oslo Metropolitan University.

In both Sweden and Norway, rural and semi-rural municipalities have been facing pressures as a result of gradual depopulation. Young people have increasingly migrated to urban centers leading to population aging concerns in these settings.

– As a result of the Syrian immigration, some of these municipalities reversed this trend. This can potentially revitalize the local economies of some of these regions as long as the immigrants stay, Siddartha Aradhya, researcher in Demography at the Stockholm University Demography Unit said. 

Eleonora Mussino states that the results of the study partly can change the narrative of the Syrian migration to Sweden and Norway. 

– We are not denying that there are challenges linked to the increased influx of Syrian immigrants, but our study also shows that in some parts of the country the refugees may constitute a welcome contribution to population growth, Eleonora Mussino said. 


Facts: How the study was done

Using register data from the Swedish and the Norwegian population register, the researchers calculated hypothetical no-war scenarios to assess the effect of the Syrian war on the population growth in Sweden. They created these hypothetical scenarios mainly by removing the excess inflow following the war. 


More about the research

Tønnessen, Marianne, Siddartha Aradhya, Eleonora Mussino, “How Assad changed population growth in Sweden and Norway – Syrian refugees’ impact on Nordic national and municipal demography”, PLOS ONE, DOI: 

The article was published 2021-01-25