Analysis on the present state of sparsely populated rural areas

Sparsely populated rural areas make up over half of Finland’s land area and are the permanent home of 5 precent of Finns and the leisure home of possibly over a million Finns. These areas differ from other urban-rural areas in particular because of their sparse population, remoteness from towns and cities and traditional economic structure. In addition to the significant untapped potential of sparsely populated rural areas, the growing importance of security policy underlines the increasing national importance of sparsely populated rural areas. Future actions to develop sparsely populated rural areas however require a knowledge base that identifies their characteristics, the main historical developments in the context of such areas and, on this basis, the key future challenges and opportunities facing them.
The analysis of the current situation in sparsely populated rural areas which MDI has produced for the Parliamentary Working Group on Sparsely Populated Rural Areas, aims to answer these questions. It consists of a synthesis of the literature review of previous research on sparsely populated rural areas, an extensive analysis of statistics and an examination of the concept of smart shrinking from the perspective of the areas in question.

An extensive statistical analysis examined the demographic structure and development, leisure-time residence and employment in sparsely populated rural areas using different statistical sources. The concept of smart shrinking was explored through a literature review, highlighting the most recent research literature on the concept nationally and internationally. The themes of smart shrinking were further explored from the perspective of sparsely populated rural areas by conducting interviews in three municipalities, all with significant sparsely populated rural areas.

The report identifies chronic depopulation as one of the key challenges facing sparsely populated rural areas and as something which reflects wider longer-term societal trends. Long-term demographic challenges have led to an age structure in the region which alone is sufficient to lead to a notable and relatively certain decline in population in the future. Despite the demographic challenges faced, strong positive trends were also identified, particularly in the areas of leisure and employment. The work also looked at sparsely populated rural areas at the county level, in order to identify (large) regional differences in development. From the point of view of the theme of smart shrinking, the study identified actions that already fit the themes of the concept in relation to the actions of municipalities, although the concept itself is not yet well known. Smart shrinkage, it is argued, can also provide effective solutions to meeting the future challenges of sparsely populated rural areas.

The full report can be read and downloaded from the link bellow (in Finnish).