Composition of the population

​The first settlers in the Estonian territory had Europid features and arrived in Estonia as the continental ice receded from the eastern part of Central Europe or southern part of Eastern Europe. In the Mesolithic Age (9000–4900 BC) the local inhabitants made up a uniform contact network with groups of people inhabiting the Forest Zone of eastern and northern Europe. Current genetic research shows that the Estonians, who are part of the Finno-Ugric language group, originate on the maternal side mostly from Europe, and on the paternal side from eastern areas.

​Migrations have influenced the population in the Estonian territories later as well. New settlers usually turned up after periods of high mortality rates. From the 13th century AD onwards, people arrived in towns mainly from Germany and Sweden. In the Middle Ages, the towns became largely German, although nearly half the town dwellers were Estonians. Foreigners who settled in rural areas, mostly from Finland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, assimilated fairly quickly, due to the low population-density of the area and a long settlement period. Swedes settling in western and northern coastal areas and the Russian Old Believers, who arrived from Russia for political reasons and settled on the western coast of Lake Peipsi, did not assimilate with the Estonians. Another extensive immigration period started at the end of the 19th century, when Russian industrialisation and the building of a railway network, plus the development of large industries, brought large numbers of migrant workers from Russia to Estonia.

​In pre-World War II Estonia, Estonians made up 88.1% of the entire population. The rest was made up of five minority nations, each having over 3000 people. The Germans and the Jews were granted cultural autonomy according to a law passed in 1925. The biggest minority groups were the Russians (8.2% or approx. 92 000 people), Germans (1.5% or 16 300) and Swedes (0.7% or 7600), whereas Latvians and Jews made up less than 0.5%. As a result of political changes and World War II, Estonia lost four of its five historical national minorities. The Russian minority survived; its size in the early 1990s was 39 000.

​Due to events related to the war, the Estonians made up 97% of the population within the new borders of the country right after World War II. In peacetime, intensive immigration from other parts of the Soviet Union into Estonia began. This slowed only in the late 1980s, and since that time the Estonian net migration has been negative.

In 2010, the Estonian population was as follows: 68% Estonians, 25% Russians, 2% Ukrainians, 1% Belarusians and 1% Finns. Other large national groups include Jews, Tatars, Germans, Latvians, Poles and Lithuanians.

​The long-range composition of the population will be influenced by its age structure. The percentage of children in the Estonian population is in decline: in 2008 it was 21% of the whole population. The number of old people is increasing. However, the share of the population over 64 years old is, compared with other European countries, relatively modest: according to data gathered in 2008, people 65 years old and older formed only 18% of the Estonian population. The number of working-age people diminished between 1990 and 2007, but then began to rise as those born in the late 1980s reached maturity and started to work. Despite the fall in the number of working-age people, their percentage of the whole population in Estonia in the near future will be relatively stable. Important changes in the population’s age structure will occur after 2018, when the share of working-age people will rapidly fall.

​The employment level of 15-64- year old people is somewhat higher in Estonia than in the European Union on average. This is mainly due to the higher than average employment of Estonian women. Even among retired people the employment of men and women is quite similar. It is not customary in Estonia to work after age 70, but until that age people are relatively actively engaged in work.

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