Population totals continue to be promising for those hoping Svalbard’s Norwegian settlements can thrive in a post-coal era, with the 121 new residents in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund during the first half of 2019 representing the largest half-year increase since 2009, according to Statistics Norway.
The figures are less encouraging for the government’s stated goal of making Longyearbyen more of a “normal” Norwegian family community, as the latest figures show 36 percent of the 2,379 residents in the two settlements are foreigners – continuing a steady growth from the 14 percent in 2009 – and the ratio of single-person households remains far above the mainland’s. But Statistics Norway notes the influx of foreigners is slower so far this year compared to Norwegians.
“In recent years, migration flows have largely come from abroad, but in the first half of 2019 most of the growth came from southern Norway,” the agency noted in a report released Wednesday. Also, while the number of residents from northern Norway has seen the largest percentage decline in recent years, and are now outnumbered by their southern countrymen by about two-to-one, there was a small increase in their number during the first half of 2019.
Four years ago some local and national officials declared Longyearbyen might face a major population decline – possibly a quarter or more of the roughly 2,200 residents at the time – after Store Norske announced it was halting most of its coal mining due to record losses. While both the company and town have been in turmoil since due to economic and other dilemmas, the rapid rise of tourism in particular prevented s dropoff.
“Despite an almost total shut down of coal mining in Svalbard, the population has been on the rise in recent years,” Statistics Norway noted.
Some long-term population trends remain consistent, such as those ages 20-44 representing by far the most by age group (1,266, with those 45-66 next at 650). Men continue to outnumber women by a fair margin (1,297 to 1,082). Also, single-person households continue to dominate, representing 52.1 percent of all households compared to two-person (24.5 percent), three (9.6 percent), four (8.4 percent) and five or more (6.4 percent).
There were 355 people 18 years old or younger, with 279 of them ages 1-12. And in another sign of modern times that’s emerged in recent years, the number of people ages 67 and older – once virtually non-exisitent due to Svalbard’s self-sufficency laws – is now 37.
Meanwhile, for those who appreciate consistency, the populations of the Russian settlement of Barentsburg (458) and the Polish Polar Station Hornsund (10) were unchanged during the first half of the year.