Economic conditions and migration in Greenland - A preliminary study on migration to and from Greenlandic settlements 1988 - 1995

by Birger Poppel

Abstract
The aim of the paper is to give some clues of the recent economic and demographic development of the small settlements. Whereas the total population in the 59 settlements has been stable for more than 10 years there are major fluctuations from region to region. The article suggests that further analyses might confirm the hypothesis that the population in the settlements is more mobile than usually assumed.

Over a period of more than 10 years (1985 to 1996) the total population of all the 59 small settlements has been very stable. In 1985 9,663 inhabitants lived in small settlements. In 1996 the total number was 9,488. But while the total was almost unchanged, great changes took place in a lot of settlements.

It used to be part of the Inuit's traditional way of life to move away from places with little to catch and to settle where conditions for making a living were more plentiful. Nowadays more draw factors exist (better housing conditions, education possibilities etc.) when people decide whether to migrate. But it is still an important question to try to answer whether the settlement pattern among Inuit is still (and if - to what degree) determined by expected income possibilities.

Over a period of more than 10 years (1985 to 1996) the total population of all the 59 small settlements has been very stable. In 1985 9,663 inhabitants lived in small settlements. In 1996 the total number was 9,488. But while the total was almost unchanged, great changes took place in a lot of settlements. More than half of the settlements had an increase or decrease in population figures of more than 10% from 1988 to 1996. And out of those 12 settlements had a change of more than 30%. This of course leads to questions of the characteristics of settlements with growing vs. decreasing population figures.

This gives a picture different from the overview just stating that on an aggregate level population figures for the settlements are stable. But of course it gives no explanation to the variations.

It used to be part of the Inuit's traditional way of life to move away from places with little to catch and to settle where conditions for making a living were more plentiful. Nowadays more draw factors exist (better housing conditions, education possibilities etc.) when people decide whether to migrate. But it is still an important question to try to answer whether the settlement pattern among Inuit is still (and if - to what degree) determined by expected income possibilities. One way to put the question might be whether there is a connection between changes in population and changes in income as a measure for changes in economic conditions in the settlements. The concept of income used is the total taxable income in each settlement. This definition includes only money income and excludes therefore the value of the hunters and fishermen's own catches.

In the diagram below (figure 1) the relative changes in population (age 15 to 59) from 1988 to 1995 are paired with the relative changes in total taxable settlement income (for the age group 15-59) for all of the 59 settlements. A high correlation (in this analysis it is calculated to 0.7) would be expected in places with a great variety of industrial or other business activities. The argumentation would typically be: the more people in the labour force the higher the total earned - and therefore taxable - income. As paid employment is scarce in many settlements, the correlation could have been assumed to be lower. The next step in the analysis is to match relative population changes (age 15 to 59) with relative changes in taxable income per capita in each settlement (figure 2). According to the statistical calculation there is only low correlation, the correlation coefficient being 0.2. This result does not seem to support an assumption about a connection between settlement income/income possibilities and the location of people. But before the idea of such a connection is left, a more detailed look at the data is necessary.

Knowing that economic conditions are very different from area to area, it is necessary to break down data to the regional level and repeat the latter test on this level. The calculation on five regions gives some significantly different results: Some (but low) negative correlation in the southern region (corr. - 0.2), no correlation in the Disco Bay Area (corr. 0.1), a strong negative correlation in Midwest Greenland (- 0.4) and also in East Greenland (- 0.6) and a positive correlation in the North of Greenland (corr. 0.3).

It is interesting that the correlation in three out of five regions is negative. The interpretation is that a fall in the population size is accompanied by a relative increase in average income.

Even without a more thorough analysis of the test results it seems - broadly speaking - as if there is some kind of migration pattern connected to each of the regions and thereby to the development of the socioeconomic conditions characteristic to the regions, meaning that there is migration out of the settlements/regions with declining economic activities and into settlements/regions with increasing economic activities, with the possible result that average incomes might rise in both types of settlements/regions. The reason for rising average incomes where economic activities are declining is partly that the amount of wage-labour is more or less fixed - at least in the short run and hence shared by fewer when there is migration out of a settlement/region.

Since the decline in the cod stock in the early nineties, economic conditions have worsened in some of the settlements dependent on cod fishing (especially in the middle and southern part of the west coast). In the same period halibut fishing has contributed to a still larger degree to some of the local communities north of the Disco Bay. A preliminary explanation (or perhaps rather a hypothesis for the future analysis) might be that rising income as a consequence of better business conditions (including fishing and hunting possibilities) in settlements/regions attracts immigrants and/or make people stay. As income possibilities are expanding, average incomes may rise even the labour force is growing. At the other end of the scale, where total settlement incomes are declining, so many people leave the settlements that average incomes increase too.

As already mentioned, the connection between income (as a measure of local economic conditions) and population changes needs to be analysed more carefully. Not least because a lot of questions rise out of the settlements data and the above described temporary calculations and minor analysis: What are the nature and impact of the population changes - is the migration typically from one settlement to another or is it a settlement - town - settlement migration?" and "How do adaptations and adjustments to changes in economic conditions take place? What impact do such changes have on migration - and if there is migration due to changing conditions what determines the velocity of the migration?

References
Statistics Greenland, 1996. Tal om Grønlands bygder. Bygdebeskrivelse af Illorsuit, Indkomstoverførslerne i Grønland. Nuuk.
Statistics Greenland, 1997. Tal om Grønlands bygder. Nuuk.
Statistics Greenland, 1995. Rapport om Levevilkår i bygderne nr. 5. Nuuk.
Statistics Greenland, 1997. Statistical Yearbook 1997. Nuuk.
Statistics Greenland, 1997. Statistisk årbog 1997. Nuuk.
Poppel, Birger, 1997. Greenland's Road to Recovery and the Pattern of Settlement. North, The Nordic Journal of Regional Development and Territorial Policy, vol. 8, 1997, no. 2.