"Hardly any research has investigated how this emigration affects the Norwegian working life and welfare society, such as population ageing, availability of skills, or economic and regional inequalities" says OsloMet researcher Marianne Tønnessen.
Life, death, and travel
Tønnessen's EXITNORWAY project at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) aims to understand who these emigrants are and how their absence changes Norwegian society.
There are four factors that affect a country's population: mortality, fertility, immigration, and emigration. The first three overshadow most discussions about population.
Everyone would like to decrease mortality, and most wealthy countries are concerned with increasing fertility rates. Former Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg famously made several appeals to young Norwegian couples to have more children.
Depending on the country, immigration may be welcomed or controversial. The last factor, the people who choose to leave the country, gets much less discussion but is just as important to society.
Tønnessen and her team will be investigating data from the Norwegian Population Registry going back to 2000.
"We have a big advantage over emigration scholars in other countries because the Norwegian data is more complete."
The data they will be using includes detailed basic information like age, sex, education, income, and place of residence in Norway.
Why reject an appealing destination?
Although the research is just getting started, one factor is already standing out. Most of the emigrants came to Norway as immigrants.
Most migration theories say that people move to a country for higher pay, better jobs, or safety. In this respect, it seems like people would want to stay in Norway.
However, around 30,000 people leave Norway every year, more than during the famous emigration peaks to the Americas in the 1800's.
The reason so many people are leaving is a blind spot for Norwegian demographers. To answer this question, Tønnessen will go beyond the basic demographics to look at why these people initially came to Norway (e.g., family visa, work, asylum, etc.) and interview people to learn their stories.
One possible explanation is that people come to Norway with plans to maximize their income or reach a target income and then leave either when they have reached that target or if they feel like they cannot.
In either case, Tønnessen wants to know how their leaving affects Norwegian society.
"By emigrating, people affect the places that they leave," Tønnessen stated in a recent paper.
Factors like income level will affect inequality in immigrant and native populations. Younger emigrants may exacerbate the challenges of an ageing population, and if educated people leave it can lead to skill shortages or mismatches in the Norwegian economy.
Patterns influenced by the pandemic
EXITNORWAY will continue to analyse emigration data through 2025.
One new question they have is how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed immigration and emigration patterns. In the short term, both have plummeted.
However, while even people who have the option to telework have stayed in the county, many of them have taken the opportunity to move out of the big cities. It is yet to be seen whether this is the start of a new trend or an outlier that will return to normal once the pandemic ends.
Over the next few years, EXITNORWAY expects to start publishing papers and engaging with the public and policymakers. They will interview emigrants to find out more about them and dig into the data to understand what motivates people to leave this country. The information they find may shape Norwegian policy from health and welfare to education.