The population of Finland consists of three major groups representing three successive waves of colonization: the Lapps, who live in the north and number only about 9,350; the Finns, who form 93.4% of the population; and the Swedes, living mainly in the south and west.
Today each group retains its own language and both Finnish, a complex Uralic language distantly related to Hungarian, and Swedish are official languages.
Towns and Cities
Towns and cities are a relatively new element in the settlement pattern.
In 1880 only 9% of the population could be considered urban; today about 60% of the population of 5.4 million live in urban communities.
Finnish towns are mostly modern, clean, and architecturally impressive as might be expected in the land that has produced world-famous architects like Alvar Aalto and Eliel and Eero Saarinen. The main urban centers are in the south and west.
About 20% of the population lives in and around Helsinki, the capital and chief port, whose metropolitan area has a population of 1,325,775 (2011 met area). Helsinki is the seat of government and the chief cultural center, with commerce, finance, and manufacturing among its other functions.
Its landmarks include the railroad station (designed by Eliel Saarinen) and other functionalist buildings. Near the capital is the garden city of Tapiola, designed by Aarne Ervi and founded in 1952.
Turku (303,492 2011 met area), the former capital, was founded in 1157 and is Finland's oldest town.
Tampere (340,000; 2011 met area), Finland's second largest city, is a textile and manufacturing center.
Inland towns like Lahti (101,686) have grown rapidly, due in part to the influx of refugees from Karelia, most of which was ceded to the USSR in 1947, but more to the development of industries like the manufacture of furniture, plywood, and woodworking machinery.
Northern towns like Oulu (141,742), Kemi (22,579), and Rovaniemi (60,112), the capital of Finnish Lapland, also depend mainly on the timber industry and are exceptionally large for such northern latitudes. In addition to these well established centers there are temporary towns which grow and decay in association with mining and lumbering developments. In rural Finland the large estates characteristic of the southwest contrast with the smaller farm-and-forest holdings scattered across the rest of the country.
Culture and Beliefs
Most Finns are well-educated. Schooling is free and compulsory from 7 to 15 years of age, and illiteracy is negligible. The oldest of the five universities is Helsinki, founded at Turku in 1640. While there is complete freedom of worship more than 92% of the population belong to the Lutheran National Church and just over 1% to the Greek Orthodox Church of Finland.
Housing is good but expensive. Many Finns have second homes or summer cabins in the countryside.
All benefit from the extensive social welfare system. Athletics and gymnastics have a large following, and the sauna is a famous national institution that has spread to many other countries. Most Finnish cities have public saunas, and the number of private saunas is thought to exceed 500,000.
The Finns have struck some outside observers as a solemn people, owing perhaps to their struggle for survival, both physical and political, in an often harsh lake and forest environment, especially in the long dark winter. Much of the music of Jean Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer, is imbued with this gloomy grandeur. Mental illness and suicide rates tend to be high.
Trade and Communication
Wood products make up about three quarters of the total exports and include wood, wood pulp, matches and paper. Other exports are butter, meat and cheese. The main imports are iron and steel products, machinery, coffee, sugar, rice, wheat, fuel, coal, chemicals, cotton and wool. Finland's major trading partner is Britain but others are Russia, Germany, United States, Canada and Latin American countries.
The main mode of transport in the interior is a complex system of canals which as well as linking most of the innumerable lakes also connects them with the Gulf of Finland. There are about 38,000 km of secondary roads. The railways, which are almost totally owned by the government, are about 5300 km long. The Finnish merchant navy is extensive, numbering about 530 vessels. An efficient airways system links Helsinki with domestic and international cities.