The results of the population census have been published

Posted on 16 December 2022, 9:43, leading analyst Terje Trasberg

The results of the 2021 population and housing census have been published. The data on the Estonian population collected during the census helps us understand what life is like in Estonia today.

The population is growing due to immigration

Estonia's population on 31.12.2021 (1,331,824 people) is about 3% higher than 10 years ago. 84% of people residing in Estonia today lived here at the time of the previous census as well. 11% have been added by births and 5% by immigration in the intervening period. It is immigration that has ensured population growth in recent years, even with lower birth rates. Today, 211 ethnic nationalities are represented in Estonia and 243 different mother tongues are spoken. Census data show that Estonia is an attractive destination for highly educated foreigners. Overall, Estonia stands out among European countries for its highly educated population – 43% of the population aged 25–64 have a higher education, which puts Estonia in 7th place in Europe. Moreover, Estonian women are ranked 3rd in terms of educational attainment.

More people of different ethnic nationalities live in Estonia than ever before, but the share of Estonians in the population has remained stable over the three censuses (2000: 68.3%; 2011: 69.8%; 2021: 69.4%). Estonian is spoken by 84% of the population: 67% of people speak it as their mother tongue and 17% as a foreign language. Compared with previous censuses, the proportion of people who speak Estonian has increased (2000: 80%; 2011: 82%), particularly due to those who speak Estonian as a foreign language (2000: 12%; 2011: 14%). It is estimated that 76% of Estonia’s population can speak a foreign language. While Russian was the most widely spoken foreign language in Estonia 10 years ago, today it is English. An estimated 17% of the native Estonian-speaking population speak a dialect. This is 2 percentage points more than in the previous census.

The population is ageing, but older people are healthier and more active in the labour market

The average age of the Estonian population is 42, the highest in the 11 censuses conducted in Estonia. For instance, in Estonia's first census in 1881, the average age of people was 27. The working-age people account for 61%, the over-64s for 20%, and minors for 19% of the total population. The share of people aged 65 and over has risen from 15% in 2000 to 20% in 2021.

However, more older people than before are active in the labour market, and they are less restricted in their daily activities because of health issues than at the time of the previous censuses. 19% of people over the age of 64 were employed in 2021, up from 10% in 2011 and 14% in 2000. While 39% of people over 64 were restricted in their daily activities in the 2011 census, 24% were in 2021. Young people, however, are estimated to have more health problems today than in previous censuses. For example, 14% of 15–29-year-olds felt limited in their daily lives because of health issues in 2011, compared with 17% now.

People are having children later in life, but the average family in Estonia is bigger than 10 years ago

Women are giving birth at a later age but the average number of children by the age of 45 is the same as 10 and 20 years ago – 1.9. In comparison with 2011, the number of families has fallen, including the number of married couple families and lone parent families, whereas there are now more consensual union couple families. People are getting married at a later age – in 2000, at least half of the population were already married by the age of 30–34, whereas 36% of people in this age range were married in 2011 and 32% in 2021.

The average family in Estonia is larger than before, with 2.94 members on average, instead of 2.74. The biggest families live in town settlement regions around Tallinn and Tartu. For instance, in Rae rural municipality, the average household has 3.07 members.

The population is increasingly concentrated in and around Tallinn and Tartu

Urbanisation is being led by Tallinn, but other Estonian cities have tended to lose population, especially in Ida-Viru county. Smaller cities around Tallinn and Tartu continue to grow, in other words, urban sprawl is taking place. The population of more remote smaller cities and rural areas overall has decreased, but at a much slower rate than between 2000 and 2011, and the decline has not been as widespread as back then.

Tallinn is home to 33% of Estonia's total population, and as many as 43% of people in employment work in the capital. Both figures are on the rise – 29% of the population lived in Tallinn in 2000, compared with 30% in 2011 and 33% in 2021. 39% of the employed worked in Tallinn in 2011, rising to 43% in 2021. Furthermore, census data show that half of the foreigners who move to Estonia stay in Tallinn.

Dwellings in Estonia are old but well-equipped

Estonia's population is divided between 557,146 dwellings, which is approximately 2.4 inhabitants per dwelling. The average Estonian has 30 m2 of living space, and this figure has not changed compared with 2011. Increasingly, residents of Estonia live in private houses (2000: 26.8%; 2011: 28.6%; 2021: 29.3%). 68% of households live in the property they own, whereas 18% rent their dwelling. Housing conditions (piped water, toilet facilities, etc.), which were already very good in 2011, have remained the same or improved by a percentage point.

Construction activities have taken place in the areas where people have moved or are moving to – 88% of dwellings completed in the last 10 years have been built in Harju or Tartu county. While the most common form of household in Estonia is a person living alone, the real estate built in the last decade is mainly occupied by young families. In general, the absolute majority of people (51.4%) live in an apartment in a city, and the average person's dwelling is a few years older than the average person in Estonia.