Children playing outside the town of Kandalaksha on Russia's Kola Peninsula (Murmansk region). Credit: Arctic Council/Jonathan Campion
Children playing outside the town of Kandalaksha on Russia's Kola Peninsula (Murmansk region). Credit: Arctic Council/Jonathan Campion

Following the tracks of snowbirds: The Arctic Demography Index

For the first time, the Arctic Council will develop a comprehensive insight to demographic trends in the Arctic. The Arctic Demography Index will look into the natural causes of population changes as well as at migration patterns. Learn more about the project – and what sunshine and snowbird migration stand for.

When we speak of Arctic change, our thoughts usually turn around environmental issues, such as retreating sea ice or thawing permafrost. Demographic changes meanwhile often happen under the radar of many. Yet, they are not less concerning. Regions across Arctic States are facing a number of troublesome demographic trends: young people move South for education and work, while senior citizens leave the North in search for a more agreeable climate. Communities across the Arctic are depopulating, some dying.

“We need to study demography and migration patterns in the Arctic, in order to understand how we can sustainably develop the region,” Dr. Maria Pitukhina says. She is a political scientist at the Petrozavodsk State University and head of the Arctic Demography Index, a project endorsed by the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), led by the Russian Federation and co-led by Canada and Norway.

The Arctic Demography Index (ADI) launched its first stage in June 2021, during which the project team collected statistical data for 19 Arctic territories within 5 Arctic States: Canada, Finland, Norway, the Russian Federation and Sweden – down to the municipality level. The data covers the timespan from 2011 to 2019 and thanks to ADI’s emphasis on visualization, you can already take a look at demographic trends and developments on the project’s web presence.

The graph shows the population change across all age groups in 2019 vs 2011. (ADI web presence)

An aging Arctic population – with exceptions

The demographic situation across the circumpolar Arctic differs between countries and territories. While the general trend in the analyzed Arctic regions is an aging population – as in many parts of Europe and the Russian Federation – Maria Pitukhina can also show positive trends in some regions.

“The population trends in Northern Norway and Sweden for example are positive. They are among some of very few regions, where you can see a retention and, in some places, even an increase in the younger age groups over the past years. It would be very useful to know what triggered these trends and if appropriate policies can be adopted in other regions as well,” describes Maria Pitukhina.

Exploring migration patterns

ADI is the first Arctic Council project that takes a closer look at demography. While recent reports, such as The Economy of the North – ECONOR 2020 also looked at population changes across the Arctic, ADI will add an additional level to the demographic analysis. “We will look at natural and mechanical parameters of population changes. Natural parameters include birth and death rates, while mechanical parameters are linked to migration. And this is what sets our project apart: the focus on mechanical processes,” explains Maria Pitukhina.

The project will distinguish between four types of migration: labor, education, snowbird and sunshine. Labor and education linked migration are rather self-explanatory, but what about snowbird and sunshine migration? Snowbird migration describes a flow for both human healthcare and well-being reasons, while sunshine migration is a term used to define the outflow of senior citizens to places of residence that offer favorable climatic conditions.

"Sunshine migration is a quite common form of migration, especially in the Russian Arctic. People who have spent many years working in harsh Arctic conditions buy a house in the areas around larger cities such as Moscow, St. Peterburg or Kaliningrad," says Maria Pitukhina.

“Sunshine migration is a quite common form of migration, especially in the Russian Arctic. People who have spent many years working in harsh Arctic conditions buy a house in the areas around larger cities such as Moscow, St. Peterburg or Kaliningrad. As we know the number of senior citizens, it is possible for us to project sunshine migration,” says Maria Pitukhina.

The demography of Indigenous Peoples

ADI seeks to identify Arctic migration flows, points of attraction and driving forces, as well as the logistics of human capital flows. In addition, it also includes demographic data on Arctic Indigenous Peoples. To date, the project team has included data from Russian Indigenous Peoples, but they hope to add data on Inuit and Saami living in the European parts of Sápmi and Canada. “We also hope to collect examples of conflict of interest between Indigenous Peoples and industrial companies. We know of both negative and positive examples in the Arctic,” Maria Pitukhina adds.

Maria Pitukhina hopes that the index will be relevant for both researchers and policy makers and that the remaining Arctic States will join the effort in future.

Learn more about Arctic demography in the ADI web presence.

Photo: Children playing outside the town of Kandalaksha on Russia's Kola Peninsula (Murmansk region). Credit: Arctic Council/Jonathan Campion

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