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Nordic research overview provides perspectives on regional policy

The population structure in the Nordic region is changing. An ageing population, migration and urbanisation are leading to challenges for both the labour market and the welfare state in general. Many of the problems and solutions highlighted in this area can impact negatively on regional development as well as gender equality if they are implemented without having been analysed from a gender perspective. This has been shown in a new Nordic research overview.


The purpose of Gender perspective on regional challenges, regional policy and demographic trends in a Nordic context – a research overview was to bring together knowledge at an overarching level on demographic trends in the Nordic countries, the challenges associated with these trends, and to highlight in particular the application and importance of the gender perspective to these issues.

These challenges exist throughout the Nordic region, but are marked by regional conditions and differences between rural and urban areas. That is why this research overview has a particular focus on regional development and policy issues related to demography and urbanisation. Questions within the theme concern mobility, commuting, supply strategies and regional development strategies for example.

The data has been drawn from both policy documents and research.

Policy documents and research

This research overview examines how gender equality has been included as a goal in regional policy in the Nordic countries, but also how depictions of the problems are understood and how solutions are presented. The review of policy documents from the gender perspective shows that both problems and solutions are largely ungendered, or gender-blind. This means that the policies fail to acknowledge that women and men have different experiences and circumstances, and that the problem descriptions and proposed solutions could have different effects on men and women.

Gender-blindness is problematic because patterns of movement, education level, demographic trends and the labour market are areas that are most closely intertwined with gender. It is also problematic because women and men are affected differently by economic and social policies. All in all, the overview shows that regional policy and development require a holistic approach.

“This overview does not answer questions about how best to guide policy, but would like to point out that the gender and gender equality perspectives need to be given more emphasis in national policies. Responsibility for implementing national policy has increasingly been placed on local actors. This makes clear guidance on what goals are to be achieved even more important,” says Lena Grip, PhD in Cultural Geography at Karlstad University, who produced the research overview.

Research about regional development and policy issues related to demography and urbanisation/centralisation in the Nordic countries is a broad area of knowledge. Much of the research in this field is concerned with the challenges in rural, peripheral and sparsely populated areas – from a national perspective and from the experiences of the regions themselves.

The research overview presents specific research that highlights how these issues are intertwined with gender. One example is the issue of more commuting, which is seen as a way of solving the problem of matching people to jobs in rural areas and the need for specialist skills in the labour market. Research highlights the fact that there is no problematisation of who is to commute and what challenges this presents for family and private life.

“There is also a need for further research in order to gain a greater understanding of how regional development is related to gender, demography, and centralisation trends,” says Lena Grip.

The research overview presents a number of suggestions for questions that could be taken up in future research (see fact box). The research overview was produced by Lena Grip on behalf of Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK). NIKK is a co-operation body under the Nordic Council of Ministers, located at the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the University of Gothenburg.

Gender equality efforts crucial for the future of rural areas

The Faroe Islands. Photo: Dani L.

Gender is an important parameter for understanding both demographic and economic development in relatively isolated areas. How is gender equality and equal participation in paid work and care for the family negotiated in communities characterised by geographic isolation? The new report “Equality in Isolated Labour Markets” investigates these issues in places in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland.


Men and women in the Nordic countries occupy different positions in the labour market and in social structures. This new report focuses on people living and working in geographically isolated areas of the Nordic region. How do they make a living and maintain ties to locality? And how do questions of gender equality impact on work and family life decisions? The places in focus are Narsaq in Greenland, Suðuroy in the Faroe Islands and Læsø in Denmark. While different in several important respects, these places face a common challenge in maintaining demographic sustainability. They are all characterised by declining population figures, and especially young women tend to leave.

The research project is partly funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

The butterfly effect: minor changes leading to amplified developments

The report also has a subsection specifically focusing on youth and their views, as future decisions about where to live and work for this group is highly influential on long-term demographic sustainability. What is the basis for future work life and family life in these places? Helene Pristed Nielsen, associate professor at Aalborg University, has led the study.

A main finding is that especially young women perceive local gender roles as more constrained or pre-defined than both the young men and the older generations – with the possible exception of the older Greenlandic women, who frequently concurred that local gender roles were too traditional. Almost universally, the young women saw very few career possibilities for themselves in their local communities”, she says.

Some of the report’s other main findings are that seasonal variation in workloads is most pronounced on Læsø (which also has the most developed tourism sector), family ties are important for settlement patterns especially in Suðuroy, whereas respondents in all three locations express a strong sense of belonging in place. Respondents in Narsaq are rather suspicious of externally driven development projects, but frequently highly supportive of local initiatives, the latter also characterising attitudes encountered on Læsø. Mobility is for obvious reasons most difficult in the Greenlandic context, but nevertheless, mobility is highly significant for both work lives and family life practices in all three locations.

The report points to six lessons learned from its analyses, which may have implication both at policy level but also locally for residents in debating how best to ensure viable demographic and economic future development in their locality. One of them is “the butterfly effect”.

“In small places, change can happen relatively quickly, and even minor changes have a tendency to develop amplified effects. For example, if you close a local workplace with only two or three jobs, this may mean that two or three local families will have to move away to ensure jobs for both parents. This may bring the number of children in the local school to a critical low. Furthermore, local sports clubs and associations are typically dependent on volunteers, and if people move away, it is difficult to recruit new volunteers. People tend to have many roles in small communities and can be difficult to replace”, says Helene Pristed Nielsen.

Read the report “Equality in Isolated Labour Markets – Equal opportunities for men and women in geographically isolated labour markets in Læsø (DK), Suðuroy (FO), and Narsaq (GL)”.


Six lessons derived from “Equality in Isolated Labour Markets”

  1. Interactions of gender and place: small places may fruitfully consider how gender and place interact locally, potentially limiting (perceived) options in the labour market
  2. Community networks: ensuring open and multiple local networks are paramount in supporting settlement/population retention
  3. Supporting entrepreneurial spirit: entrepreneurship benefits from overt support
  4. Prioritising ’the good life’: perceptions about ‘the good life’ often take presidency over perceived career possibilities when choosing where to settle
  5. Mobility strategies: mobility is part and parcel of place, especially small places
  6. Butterfly effects: because small places are small, even minor changes have a tendency to develop amplified effects
Latest updated 15 September 2020