In 2019, Estonia had a population density of 29 residents per km2. According to official statistics, the majority of the population (68 percent, 2017) live in cities. The largest are Tallinn (426,500 residents, 2017), and other cities include Tartu (93,100), Narva (57,100), Pärnu (39,600) and Kohtla-Järve (35,200).
According to Countryaah, the population has a large excess of women (116 women per 100 men), mainly due to high mortality rates for men in accidents and alcohol and drug abuse.
During World War II and the subsequent Soviet occupation, Estonia lost a large part of its population, mainly in deportations and escape. Instead, there was occasionally a very extensive move in from other parts of the Soviet Union. After Estonia regained its independence, emigration accelerated, and together with the birth deficit, it has led to a population reduction of about a quarter of a million since 1990. Emigration reached a peak in 1992, when the country’s population decreased by almost 34,000 people by emigration. Since then, emigration has slowed down significantly, but in the wake of the global financial crisis, in 2010, according to official statistics, it comprised 5,300 people, while the number of immigrants in the same year was about 2,800.
Most of those who left Estonia in the 1990s lived in the cities and usually speak Russian or belong to other non-Estonian ethnic groups. After the 2004 EU accession, the proportion of rural and Estonian speakers has increased among the emigrants. The move from the cities has been partly offset by the move in from the countryside. Tallinn has largely retained its population, while the population of Tartus and several other cities has decreased.
Throughout emigration, Estonia’s ethnic composition has shifted to the Estonian advantage, from 61.5 percent of the population in 1989 to 69 percent in 2011. Other major ethnic groups include Russians (25.5 percent, 2011), Ukrainians (2 percent) and Belarusians (1.1 percent). The regional differences are large. While the Slavic population is concentrated in Tallinn with surrounding Harju County, the country’s northeastern parts (Narva area) and Tartu County, the Estonians make up 95 percent or more of the population of Dagö, Ösel and the southeastern Võru county.
There are also small groups of Finns, Tatars, Latins, Lithuanians, Poles, Germans and Jews. The Estonian-Swedish population, formerly residing in Estonia’s coastal areas, fled to Sweden during the Second World War.
- AllCityPopulation: Find Estonia demographics including latest population, life expectancy, age structure, and urbanization.
Estonian and Russian are the dominant languages in Estonia. About 930,000 people speak Estonian as their mother tongue, and 350,000 state Russian as their first language. After the Second World War, a Russian occupation took place, mainly to the Tallinn area and industrial cities in northeastern Estonia. There is also an old Russian settlement in the countryside west of Lake Peipus. Estonia also has other large minority groups: about 30,000 Ukrainians, just over 15,000 Belarusians and just over 10,000 Finns (mainly Ingerman) and a few thousand Tatars, Germans, Lithuanians and Lithuanians.
Since 1989, Estonian is the official language of Estonia. However, the language legislation makes it possible to use Russian in administrative contexts in places where Russians are in the majority.
See further Estonian.
On the religion of the pre-Christian Estonians see Finno-Ugric religions.
Estonia was Christianized through a Danish mission in the 12th century and incorporated into the Western Church. The German expansion during the 13th century, through the Swordsman’s Order and the German words, divided the country churchly. The bishopric of Reval (Tallinn) belonged to the end of the Middle Ages under the Archbishop of Lund, while Dorpat (Tartu) was placed under the Archbishop of Riga. The Reformation was completely dominated by German interests, and the Lutheran Church received a full German priesthood. This also existed during the Swedish era. Dorpat received a theological faculty in 1632, but a domestic priesthood did not come into existence until the second half of the 19th century. Luther’s Little Catechism was translated into Estonian in 1535; it was the first book printed in the native language. In 1686, the New Testament was translated, but the whole Bible first came in 1739.
After the liberation in 1919, the Lutheran Church became autonomous with a democratic constitution; it constitutes a single diocese, whose bishop bears the title of archbishop. In 1926, the church was separated from the state. The Orthodox Church (Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church) declared itself independent in 1918 with a metropolitan and two other bishops and subordinate to Constantinople. During the 1930s, there were about 78% Lutherans and 19% Orthodox in the country.
During the Russian occupation during World War II, a large part of the Lutheran and Orthodox churches went into exile. It was established, among other things. Estonian Evangelical-Lutheran Exile Church (see Estonian Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Sweden) with its own archbishop. The Orthodox metropolitan fled to Sweden, and Estonian Orthodox Church was formed here in Sweden. The Orthodox in Estonia were subordinated to the Russian Orthodox bishop of Narva. In 1996, an autonomous Estonian Orthodox church, founded under Constantinople, was established. The Orthodox Russian population is still subject to the Moscow Patriarchate.
A large part of Estonia’s population today does not have a distinct religious affiliation. Among believers, most (about 14%) belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has slightly more members than the Orthodox Church (about 13%).