‘WOMEN OCCUPY SVALBARD’: Longyearbyen/Ny-Ålesund population up slightly from last year to 2,459, continues trend of women representing 75 percent of newcomers since 2009

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The population of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund increased by 31 during the past year to 2,459, despite the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many existing residents to depart, according to new figures released Tuesday by Statistics Norway.

It continues a long-term gradual increase in Svalbard’s Norwegian settlements and near-zero growth in the Russian settlements that features one clearly dominant trend: three-quarters of the growth has come from women in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund since 2009.“While the number of men on Svalbard has only increased by 101 since Jan. 1 2009, the number of women has increased by 273 in the same period,” the statistics agency reports.

While the government’s report is headlined “Women occupy Svalbard,” males haven’t surrendered their (numerical) supremacy quite yet.

“Men are still in the majority, but the proportion of women is steadily increasing, from just under 42 percent (873) in 2009 to close to 47 percent (1,146) this year,” the report notes.

Twenty of the 31 new arrivals as of Jan. 1 were women, according to the report.

The population in the Norwegian settlements also has seen a major sift in the percentage of foreign residents, increasing from about 14 percent in 2009 to about 35 percent the past few years. But the pandemic hit those residents hardest during the past year since most residents were ineligible for unemployment and insurance benefits provided to Norwegians, and strict border controls severely limited opportunities for foreigners hoping to move to Svalbard.

The largest group of residents by age are between 30-34 years old, representing 13.5 percent of Svalbard’s population. That contrasts sharply with the mainland percentage of about seven percent. Also notable is there are 43 residents ages 67 or older, since Svalbard’s self-sufficiency rules meant retirees were historically scarce as they moved to their mainland hometowns for economic and health reasons.

Barentsburg and the Pyramid experienced a sharp decline in population between 1990 and 2005, followed by near-zero growth since with a total of about 400 residents in the settlements, according to the report. There has been a shift in recent years toward more tourism industry employees, although far less drastic than what’s essentially been a replacement-level shift in Longyearbyen (a 40/15 workforce percentage between mining/tourism in 2009 shifted to roughly a 10/40 percentage before the pandemic resulted in mass tourism layoffs).

However, the figures may see a mid-year adjustment since the tax office in Svalbard is still trying to update its registry that doesn’t fully reflect movement during the past year, according to Svalbardposten. So far the tax office has found 30 people who moved from the island on a permanent basis, 150 people with an address other than that stated in the population registry and about a dozen who cannot be reached.