Population of Bornholm shrinking rapidly

In a trend mirrored by many other regions in Denmark, the sunny vacation island's population has been decreasing rapidly as young Danes head for the cities.

Population of Bornholm shrinking rapidly
Rønne, Bornholm's unofficial capitol. Photo: Steenbergs/Flickr

The Danish island of Bornholm has an enviable reputation among Danes for its sunny beaches, rustic villages, beautiful nature, and of course its annual People's Meeting.

See also: Denmark's People's Meeting: Ten fun facts

While it is an attractive summer destination however, Bornholm faces a challenge shared by nearly all villages and towns in what has been termed ‘peripheral Denmark’ (Udkantsdanmark): stemming the emigration of its younger population to the larger cities.

The island’s population recently dropped below 40,000 for the first time in a century, and is expected to decline even further in the coming years, shedding about 500 people annually. The island is currently losing residents at a faster clip than any other part of Denmark with the exception of the much smaller island of Læsø.

According to a new report by the Danish Economic Council of the Labour Movement, the working population of Bornholm will fall by 30 percent by 2040.

The regional mayor of the island, Winni Grosbøll, told The Local that while the population development is troubling, the irony is that Bornholm's industry is actually flourishing.

“Our biggest concern is that we will be unable to deliver qualified labour to Bornholm’s growing job market. It is a paradox that while the island is in an economic upswing, we have fewer people available who can take these new jobs,” Grosbøll said.

Bornholmers themselves have been lamenting the island's depopulation for years and have seen schools, banks, post offices, supermarkets and other key services closed in the smaller villages. Homes that have been abandoned for years dot the island’s countryside.

Crucially for pensioners, who constitute a growing proportion of the island’s population, the funding available for healthcare services is also on the decline.

Asked if she envisaged any way to turn the tide, Grosbøll argued that it would require changes in national policies, which prioritize Denmark's major cities over places like Bornholm.

“Of course it’s possible to reverse the trend, but it requires that politicians on a national level are aware of the effects of their policies. The trend is largely due to governments pushing for more centralization of education institutions and public sector workplaces in the largest cities, which have also received a lot of investment in infrastructure development projects compared to places like Bornholm,” Grosbøll said. 

“What we need is less centralization and more investment in affordable transportation between Bornholm and the mainland,” she argued.

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