Tallinn population shrinks for first time in 15 years

People at one of the busiest intersections in Central Tallinn.
People at one of the busiest intersections in Central Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Not counting 2019, when more than 14,000 people were erased from Tallinn's population register in one fell swoop as a legislative change entered into effect, last year, the population of Estonia's capital city declined for the first time since 2006. The primary reason? Negative natural growth.

Tallinn compiles its statistics based on registered place of residence in Estonia's national population register. According to these figures, Tallinn's population decreased by 683 people last year. In 2020, in contrast, the city's population had increased by 1,756, and for several years before that, annual population growth had exceeded 4,000 and 5,000 — even more than 10,000 in 2013.

The capital's population shrank on paper in 2019, however this drop was due to changes made to the Population Register Act entering into effect.

Last year's decrease in population size, meanwhile, can be attributed primarily to negative natural growth, Tallinn Vital Statistics Department deputy director Kristi Kail told ERR on Tuesday. In 2021, a total of 5,506 residents of Tallinn died and 4,373 were born.

"COVID-19 may certainly be an influencing factor — both COVID deaths as well as population movement impacted by COVID," Kail said.

From year to year, Tallinn is one of few Estonian local governments to typically see positive natural increases, i.e. more births than deaths. Whether last year's negative statistics are indicative of a new trend, Kail was unable to say. "We cannot anticipate something like that," she said. "We hope, of course, that that is not the case."

Mechanical population growth, or net migration, meanwhile, was once again positive in Tallinn last year — a total of 1,627 more people registered themselves as residents of the capital than unregistered.

According to Kail, the COVID crisis has had a significant — and negative — impact on net migration.

"Many people who had come here from abroad to work or study moved back to their home countries," she said. "As Tallinn is [Estonia's] biggest local government, then these proportions have been highest here."

As pandemic-related restrictions in Estonia have been dropped and are unlikely to be reinstated with the same degree of strictness, the capital is hoping to see more people start coming to live in Tallinn again.

Arrival of war refugees boosts population

In terms of population statistics, this year started out like any other for Tallinn. In April, however, the capital's population increased by nearly 2,000. According to Kail, this spike was due to the arrival of war refugees from Ukraine, many of whom ended up in Tallinn.

Amid the current situation, it is difficult to predict anything regarding impacts on Tallinn's population. "We can draw up forecasts, but how things will turn out to develop in real life is difficult to say," the city official said. "Everything is affected by the refugee crisis, and Tallinn's population is in constant flux right now."

As of May 1, according to population register data, a total of 446,396 people live in Tallinn. Lasnamäe District was unrivaled with a population of 117,294, while Pirita District was home to the smallest registered population at 19,141.

Last year, Lasnamäe saw the biggest decrease in total population at 817, while Central Tallinn's population increased by 951. Central Tallinn District is the second-biggest city district in Tallinn by population size.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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