While most of the Arctic is sparsely populated with large distances between settlements, the land beyond the Arctic Circle is, nevertheless, home to a considerable amount of people. With a population of about 4 million spread out across the territories of the eight members states of the Arctic Council, i.e. Canada, Denmark (via its constituent country of Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, the Arctic is diverse, both culturally and linguistically.
Approximately 400,000 – or 10% – of the Arctic population is comprised of indigenous peoples representing over 40 different ethnic groups – amongst them the Aleuts, the Inuit, the Sámi, the Nenets, the Khanty, the Evenk, the Chukchi and many more – and speaking 40-90 indigenous languages. Just like the nonindigenous population, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic can be found across the Arctic Council member states, the only exception being Iceland, which does not have an indigenous population.
The Arctic has a very particular demography, including a historically higher ratio of men to women compared to the rest of the world, though this ratio is steadily declining, as evinced by the example of Greenland, whose male to female ratio was 118:100 in 1977 (versus 112:100 in 2022) and is projected to decline further to 109:100 by 2040.
A significant majority of the Arctic population – about two-thirds – is concentrated in urban areas, and urbanisation is on the rise almost across the board. The Canadian Arctic is particularly indicative in this respect: 70 percent of the population of the Yukon territory is concentrated in the capital of Whitehorse, while 49 percent of the population of the Northwest Territories lives in the capital of Yellowknife.
Other capital cities have seen similar trends: Greenland’s capital of Nuuk has doubled in size from 1977 to 2016, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are responsible for 70 percent of population growth in Alaska, the capital city of Reykjavik – which has seen an annual growth rate of over 4 percent since 1960 – is home to over 64 percent of Iceland’s population, and over 43 percent of the population of Denmark’s Faroe Islands lives in the capital city of Tórshavn. As a result, smaller Arctic settlements are expected to progressively decline in size, and some will be entirely depopulated with time – one of a number of troubling demographic trends in the Arctic, another one being low overall population growth.
While Arctic populations experienced rapid growth with improvements in healthcare and standards of living in the mid-twentieth century, the Arctic is projected to see negligible population growth over the next decades, with an overall increase of 1% by the middle of the twenty-first century. The Arctic’s population is also expected to grow increasingly older with a lower share of youth, as more and more young people seek educational and professional opportunities in the "mainland."
Population growth and decline in the Arctic is not generalised, but territory and even country-specific, with some places expected to see impressive population growth over the coming years. The population of Iceland, for example, has increased by 18 percent since 2000 and is projected to increase by a third by 2066, largely due to migration. While the Canadian Arctic, Arctic Norway, Arctic Finland, Alaska, and parts of Arctic Sweden are projected to see modest to moderate population growth over the coming years, Greenland’s population is expected to decline, while the population of the Faroe Islands is expected to remain largely unchanged alongside much of the Russian Arctic, where population growth is expected only in the Nenets and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs.