Census: More people of foreign origin consider themselves ethnic Estonians

Much of the Estonian population of foreign origin can trace their roots back to Russia or Ukraine. Ukrainian vyshyvankas on display in Tallinn.
Much of the Estonian population of foreign origin can trace their roots back to Russia or Ukraine. Ukrainian vyshyvankas on display in Tallinn. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

As of the end of 2021, Estonia's population stood at more than 1.33 million, with the native population, i.e. those with at least one parent and grandparent born in the country, accounting for 72.5 percent thereof. Since the previous census, however, the share of residents of foreign origin to consider themselves ethnic Estonians has increased, according to data from the 2021 Population and Housing Census.

As of the census moment on December 31, 2021, there were a total of 962,643 people of native origin living in Estonia, which is 10,251 fewer than during the previous census conducted in 2021. At the time of the previous census, the native population accounted for 75.3 percent of the overall population, meaning that the share thereof decreased by 2.8 percentage points between censuses. The rest, or 27.5 percent of Estonia's current population, are of foreign origin, according to a Statistics Estonia press release.

Estonia's foreign-origin population, in turn, is divided into first, second and third generations according to whether people had settled in Estonia on their own or whether their parent(s) or grandparent(s) had already settled here before them. According to the census results, 13.4 percent of Estonian residents belong to the first, 7.7 percent to the second and 6.4 percent to the third generation of foreign origin.

Terje Trasberg, leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, explained that the largest group of people of foreign origin — the first generation — consists of permanent residents of Estonia who, and whose parents, were born abroad.

"These are foreign-born people who have come to live in Estonia, i.e. immigrants," Trasberg said. "In the younger age groups, the first generation includes, for example, foreign students who have been living here for a longer period of time, while in the older age groups, we see people who were born elsewhere and stayed in Estonia after the country regained its independence."

Descendants of the first generation are classified as second generation. This group may also cover e.g. a child born in Estonia to a woman who moved from abroad to live and work here.

The third generation, in turn, is made up of people with at least one parent born in Estonia and both sets of grandparents born elsewhere.

"Compared with the previous, 2011 census, the biggest change has occurred in the third generation of the foreign-origin population — its share has increased by 2.4 percentage points in ten years," Trasberg highlighted.

Of the first generation of Estonia's foreign-origin population, 45 percent are men and 55 percent are women, at average ages of 53.1 and 61.2 years, respectively. This difference is due primarily to economic migration, which is particularly prevalent among men aged 30-49 — these are men who have come to work in Estonia.

Immigrants mainly from Russia, Ukraine

More than half of Estonia's first-generation population of foreign origin — 54.4 percent, or 97,406 people — were born in Russia. Another 15.5 percent were born in Ukraine — not including those who have fled the war — followed by 5.6 percent in Belarus, 3.1 percent in Latvia and 2.5 percent in Finland.

The first foreign-origin generation, i.e. immigrants, are concentrated not only in Harju County and Ida-Viru County, but in larger cities as well. Estonia's second- and third-generation population of foreign origin, meanwhile, has spread more to the counties surrounding bigger cities.

As expected, the highest proportion of native population, at 97 percent — was found in Hiiu County and Saare County, i.e. the Western Estonian islands of Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Muhu, which topped the respective county rankings in the 2011 census as well.

According to the results of the 2021 census, 47 percent of Estonia's total population of foreign origin have Estonian citizenship, up from 44.6 percent in 2011.

Of immigrants, i.e. the first generation of foreign origin, 27.3 percent hold Estonian citizenship, down from 32.7 percent in 2011. In the second generation, 57.7 percent hold Estonian citizenship, up from 53 percent ten years earlier; of the third generation, 75 percent hold Estonian citizenship, up from 67.1 percent according to the previous census.

Proportion of self-reported ethnic Estonians more than doubles

Estonia's foreign-origin population grew more diverse over the past ten years as well. In 2011, holders of Russian citizenship and stateless persons combined accounted for 91.9 percent of the country's total population of foreign origin; by the time of the 2021 census, they accounted for just 72.5 percent thereof. Meanwhile, the share of people with Ukrainian, Latvian and Finnish citizenship among the first-generation population of foreign origin increased significantly.

According to the 2021 census, 11.6 percent of people of foreign origin consider themselves ethnic Estonians. The proportion of ethnic Estonians increased the most among the third generation of the foreign-origin population, rising from 10.7 percent in the 2011 census to 22.6 percent.

"This means that people of foreign origin who were born in Estonia and have lived here for three generations now consider themselves to be ethnic Estonians more often than before," Trasberg noted.

Meanwhile, the share of people of Russian ethnicity in Estonia's foreign-origin population has decreased — from 80 percent according to the 2011 census to 73 percent according to the latest. Between these two censuses, the proportion of ethnic Ukrainians increased from 7.4 to 8.4 percent.

While Estonian is the native language of 89 percent of the country's native population, it is the native language of just 9 percent of Estonia's population of foreign origin.

Click here for a more detailed overview of census data on Estonia's native and foreign-born populations and here for a glossary of terms used in Estonia's 2021 census and results.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: