Northern Europe


  1. Regional Characteristics
    • Relative Location
    • Population
    • Culture
    • Landscapes
    • Industrialization 
  2. Demographic Analysis based on Population Data Sheet
    • Population
    • Rate of Natural Increase
    • Under 15 / Over 65
    • Infant Mortality
    • Percent Urban
    • GNI PPP
  3. Countries
    • Sweden
    • Norway
    • Finland
    • Denmark
    • Estonia
    • Iceland
  4. References
  5. Review questions

Regional Characteristics

Relative location: Northern Europe extends from the Northern European Plain to the Arctic Circle. This area has a common problem, with the challenging physical environment. The countries include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, and Iceland. These countries have relatively small populations, but enjoy considerable prosperity and some of the world’s highest GDP per capita’s.

Population: Overall, the population of Northern Europe is fairly small, with only about 25 million inhabitants. Most of that population lives towards the south. The population densities are fairly low, due to challenges from climate and terrain. The growth rate is not very substantial either in this area. Urbanization is pretty high in this sub-region, as the northern most areas are cold climates, and the cultivatable land is so spread out. 

Culture: Northern Europe contains almost complete dominance of Evangelical Lutheran Christianity as the major religion. The people of the four major countries plus Iceland are about 90 percent this religion. Religion has had major effects on the lives of the people, including serious and community-conscious attitudes to work and social life. However, affluence and materialism have recently broke many of these cultural links, and lessened the effects by the churches. 

Landscapes: The Nordic countries are surrounded by the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean, and Baltic Sea. The region experienced several phases of glaciations. The glaciers created cirques, which are deep bowl shaped basins on mountainsides. The glaciers also created valleys, fjords, lakes, moraines, gravel, and bogs. Forests are extremely dominant in Nordic Europe. North of the forests is vast tundra.

Industrialization: Port cities are important in the Nordic countries. Manufacturing is a major part of the economy, as well as fishing, shipping, and mining. For example, Sweden is a major producer of automobiles, trucks, and aircraft. Norway has prospered from oil found in the North Sea.

Demographic Analysis based on Population Date Sheet





Rate of


Increase (%)

% of


Under 15

% of


Over 65

























































Population: The population of Northern Europe is relatively small compared to the other regions of the European continent. Sweden is the most populated country with 9.1 million in mid-2007. Denmark and Finland are about the same with 5.5 and 5.3 million respectively. Norway isn’t too far behind with 4.7. Estonia and Iceland have very small populations with only1.3 and 0.3 million respectively.

Rate of Natural Increase: All of these Northern European countries have a natural increase of less than 1%. Iceland is actually the highest with 0.8. Norway is 0.4, and Sweden, Finland and Denmark are all at 0.2. Estonia is actually decreasing in population, with a rate of -0.2%.

Under 15/ Over 65: All of these countries, excluding Estonia and Sweden have a higher percentage of people under 15 than over 65. Sweden has an even percentage of each and Estonia has a lower percentage of people under 15.

Infant Mortality Rate: The infant mortality rate of Northern Europe is relatively small compared to the total rate of the world, which is 52. The highest rate is in Estonia, which could explain the negative effects on the population. The lowest rate is in Iceland, which could also explain why they have the highest natural increase of Northern Europe.

Percent Urban: There is a very large percent of the population in urban settings in Northern Europe. This is due to the large amount of farming in these countries. Iceland has 93% urbanization.

GNI PPP: The GNI PPP’s of these countries is quite high compared to the world average of $9,940. Norway is the highest, and much of this wealth comes from oil in the North Sea. Estonia is the lowest with only $17,530. All the others are in the mid 30’s.


Sweden: In terms of population, Sweden is the largest of the Nordic countries. Most of the Swedish population lives in the south. This is the most moderate part of the country. Due to the better soils and milder climate, this area contains the main agricultural and industrial areas, as well as the capital. The Swedish people of the past exported raw materials or semi-finished materials. Today, they are making finished products for export, including automobiles, electronics, stainless steel, furniture, and glassware. In comparison to other Western European countries, Sweden’s manufacturing is based on a series of small towns specializing in particular products.

Norway: Norway’s economy has been largely supported by the fishing industry. However, in the 1970’s, they’re economy has been transformed. Oil and natural gas were discovered in Norway’s portion of the North Sea, and has become an important part of the economy. This is important, since Norway is not nearly as sufficient for agriculture as its Swedish neighbor. There is limited cultivatable soil, vast forests, frigid climate in the north, and a fjorded coastline. Norway seems to be pretty prosperous, with the second-lowest un-employment rate in Europe, and the fourth-richest country in the world in terms of per-capita income.    

Finland: Finland has about the same amount of land as Germany, and has 5.2 million people. Most of this population is concentrated in the triangle produced by the capital, Helsinki, the textile-producing center, Tampere, and the ship-building center, Turku. The economy of Finland used to be mainly supported by wood and wood product exports. However, they have developed to be a manufacturer of precision machinery and telecommunications equipment. Like its neighbors, Norway and Sweden, Finland faces environmental challenges, but has prospered despite the problems.

Denmark: With 5.4 million people, Denmark is considered relatively small territorially compared to the other Northern European countries. The capital, Copenhagen, has been called the “Singapore of the Baltic”. This city has always been a major port for collecting, storing, and shipping goods across the globe.

Estonia: Estonia is considered a northern European country because of its ethnic and linguistic similarities with Finland. Today however, 25 percent of Estonia’s 1.3 million people are Russian. Trade has helped Estonia become a more powerful country than before, and it continues to grow.

Iceland: Just south of the Arctic circle, Iceland contains only about 285,000 inhabitants. It lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are diverging to form new land. About half of the population lives in the capital city, Reykjavik. Seafood exports allow Iceland one of the highest standards of living. 


Blij, H.J. Muller, P.(2007).The World Today: Concepts and Regions in Geography (3rd Edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bradshaw, M. (2002). World Regional Geography (2nd Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill Co, Inc.

Lewis, M. Price, M. Rowntree, L. Wyckoff, W. (2000). Diversity Amid Globalization: World Regions, Environment, Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc. 

World population data sheet (2007). Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Review Questions

  1. What is the approximate population of Northern Europe?
    1. 10 million
    2. 25 million
    3. 15 million
    4. 50 million
    5. 35 million


  1. Which country prospers from oil in the North Sea?
    1. Sweden
    2. Norway
    3. Finland
    4. Denmark
    5. Iceland


  1. Which country is territorially about the same as Finland?
    1. France
    2. Spain
    3. Portugal
    4. Germany
    5. Italy


  1. Which city has been called the “Singapore of the Baltic”?
    1. Reykjavik
    2. Copenhagen
    3. Helsinki
    4. Tampere
    5. None of the above


  1. All of the following are true about Northern Europe, except:
    1. There are problems with the physical environment.
    2. The area is dominate mostly by Evangelical Lutheran Christianity.
    3. Population concentrations are mostly to the north.
    4. Manufacturing is a major part of the economies of these countries.
    5. The rate of natural increase is fairly low.


  1. What landforms have glaciers created?
    1. Moraines
    2. Fjords
    3. Valleys
    4. Lakes
    5. All of the above.


  1. Cirques are:
    1. Rings in Norwegian circuses.
    2. Deep bowl-shaped basins on mountains.
    3. A native group from northern Nordic states.
    4. The circular agricultural pattern used in Northern Europe.
    5. The tips of mountains.


  1. Which country has the highest GNI PPP?
    1. Sweden
    2. Norway
    3. Finland
    4. Denmark
    5. Iceland


  1. Which country has the highest population?
    1. Sweden
    2. Norway
    3. Finland
    4. Denmark
    5. Iceland


  1. What percentage of Iceland is urbanized?
    1. 25
    2. 56
    3. 78
    4. 93


Submitted by Annie Widdershoven, Alex Freed, and Wes Kendall on April 9, 2008. Previously submitted by Timothy Wegner on November 6,1996. Updated by Jennifer Hall on March 6, 1997. Edited by Karen Oyler on October 12, 2003.