The five national statistical offices worked together to map cross-border working life in the Nordic Region for the first time and have now produced the report Nordic cross-border statistics.
Collating the statistics is more difficult than it sounds, partly because not all countries are allowed to exchange personal information about their citizens.
Lack of data creates uncertainty
Basic facts about how many people work or study in neighbouring countries are important for policymakers, especially in the border regions where the proportion of cross-border commuters can be up to 13% of the workforce.
Until the new report was published, uncertainty reigned about employment levels in border regions. National statistics quite simply did not include movement across borders.
“The uncertainty may have led to extensive underestimating of employment rates in certain areas. Similarly, unemployment may have been overestimated due to people in work not being covered by the statistics,” says Kaija Ruotsalaine of Statistics Finland, project manager for the project.
The project has also updated information on education and training for almost 100,000 people in the Region, making it possible to correct national statistics on skill levels.
Previously, the official statistics for people trained and educated in neighbouring countries were incomplete.
Affects the attractiveness of border regions
Accurate data on cross-border working is a prerequisite for being able to market border regions and to plan for housing, schools and transport.
“The lack of robust data affects the attractiveness of our border region, Greater Copenhagen, making it impossible to demonstrate the strengths of our labour market. Uncertainty also makes it difficult to calculate the scale of our infrastructure and education needs. It leaves the local authorities on the Swedish side of the water with a misleading picture of employment and child poverty, which can lead to them misdirecting their efforts,” says Ulrika Geeraedts, Development Director in Region Skåne.
Danes give Sweden a miss and prefer Norway
Cross-border commuters make up a small proportion of the total Nordic workforce, less than 1% of the working population. Sweden has the largest proportion, Iceland the second largest.
Nordic cross-border statistics shows that 51,000 people worked on the other side of a national border in 2015. Three-quarters of them were Swedes commuting to Denmark and Norway.
Norway is also an attractive place for Danes to work, with 63% of those commuting to another Nordic country travelling to Norway – one of the more unexpected findings in the report.
The new statistics show that the number of cross-border commuters fell significantly between 2015 and 2017. The largest drop was in the number of young Swedes commuting to work in Norway. The Swedes account for the majority of cross-border commuter in the Nordic Region.
Lower youth unemployment in Sweden, the weakness of the Norwegian currency and competition from Poles and Lithuanians in the construction sector are some of the explanations for this trend, which continued at least until 2019.
Over the same period, the proportion of Danes commuting to Norway remained stable.
Unemployment affects commuting
“The flows of cross-border commuters vary along with differences in unemployment rates between countries. Fluctuating exchange rates have less of an impact, but over longer periods of time, variations in wage levels in certain occupations can trigger some of the commuting,” says Helge Næsheim, Statistics Norway and one of the people behind the Mobility Report.
Cross-border commuters may make up a small share of national employment figures, but in border regions it can be over 10%.
Western Sweden has the highest number at 13.2%. In the south of Sweden and the north of Finland, the figure is around 3%.
The report is a first step
The report is the result of a five-year project involving the national statistical offices and includes data up to 2017.
Statistics for the following years are not available because data exchanged with other countries is still not included in national data.
The Nordic Council of Ministers has called for the collation of cross-border statistics to be made permanent.