Housing and communities 2017
Population density in large urban areas is growing and an increasing number of persons over 75 years old live at home

13.6.2018 15.45
Population density in large urban areas is growing and an increasing number of persons over 75 years old live at home

The change in the age structure of the population poses challenges to the housing of older persons. More and more attention is paid to the accessibility of the living environment, and accessible services improve the possibilities for older persons to continue living in their own homes independently. The share of persons over 75 years of age living at home has increased.

Key change factors influencing housing and communities include the population structure and urbanisation as well as climate change (see the change factors of the Government).

As a result of urbanisation, population density has been growing in recent years, particularly in several large urban areas. While an intact community structure will guarantee that there is demand for public transport services, retaining green spaces must be ensured when increasing the density of community structures. Differences between regions are growing as new construction is solely focused on larger urban areas, which, in turn, have the best possibilities for affecting the development of community structures. The increase in high costs of living has abated in large urban areas. Correctly located and sufficient production will restrain the prices and rents of residential flats. The accessibility to convenience shops has been reduced in recent years due to the concentration of trade and reduction of the density of retail networks.

Climate change poses challenges to the sustainability of societies in connection with both mitigation and adaptation. For instance, affecting societal structures is key to climate change mitigation. When daily commutes can be handled on vehicles other than passenger cars and car trips remain short, traffic emissions will also be low. In turn, the adaptation of societies is promoted with measures such as flood preparation. Around 6,000 people live in areas with significant risk of flooding.

Nearly 91 per cent of persons over 75 years old live at home

The indicator describing the number of persons over 75 years old living at home presents the percentage of persons aged 75 or older who continue to live at home of the total population of the same age. This is a societally comprehensive indicator as it can be considered to include characteristics of the impacts of several different measures that promote living at home.

In 2013, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities issued quality recommendations which included setting a goal that 91‒92% of persons over 75 years of age will live at home in 2017.

The percentage of persons over 75 years old living at home has been growing since 2012. At the end of 2016, 90.9 per cent of persons over 75 years old lived at home. Those belonging to the age group are also in better shape compared to previous generations. On the other hand, older persons whose health is worse than before also continue to live at home.

There is a national objective for continuing to increase the number of persons over 75 years old living at home. In order to achieve this goal, more attention is paid to the accessibility of living environments (e.g. the accessibility of passages and low-floor solutions in modes of transport). Accessibility of buildings is implemented in new construction and by repairing buildings. Renovation subsidies promote accessibility. The Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA) grants renovation subsidies for the renovation of homes for older persons and persons with disabilities, removal of barriers to mobility (e.g. constructing ramps, automatic doors) as well as the construction of new lifts in blocks of flats whose stairwells lack them. The provision of services offered at home, including home care and meal services, also strongly support living at home.

The share of household with high housing costs has decreased in large urban areas

Housing costs are observed with an indicator displaying the share of households that spent over 40 per cent of their net revenue on living costs out of total households.

In 2015, housing costs exceeded 40 per cent of net revenue in around 171,000 households, There has been a clear decline in this number compared to the previous two years when the number was around 190,000.

High housing costs particularly put pressure on those living in rental accommodation. In 2015, high housing costs caused strain to around 13 to 18 per cent of households in rental housing depending on their place of residence. In large urban areas (Helsinki metropolitan area and other cities with over 100,000 inhabitants), there was a reduction in the share compared to the previous year.

The proportion of households with high living costs in owner-occupied accommodation remained nearly unchanged, at around 2 per cent, regardless of the place of residence. Low interest rates were the main reason for this. The repayments of loans for owner-occupied accommodation are not included in housing costs; instead, these are examined as a form of saving.

Excessive housing costs cause scattering of the societal structure in regions. Insufficient provision of housing in relation to demand in areas optimal in terms of, e.g., public transport raise the prices and rents of accommodation, as a result of which households seek more affordable housing solutions further away from urban centres. Among other issues, this increases the need for passenger cars and hinders the sustainable organisation of public transport and services also in the future. When daily commutes can be handled on vehicles other than passenger cars and car trips remain short, traffic emissions will also be low. Agreements consolidating land use, housing and transport (MAL Agreements) between the state and growth centre municipalities provide a tool for managing this problem

Housing costs can also be influenced by, for instance, active land policy and well-functioning construction and housing markets. Correctly located and sufficient housing production will restrain the prices and rents of accommodation, which affect the housing costs incurred by households.

Population density has begun to rise, particularly in large urban areas

Having at least 20 inhabitants per hectare has been perceived as a population density that supports the organisation of profitable public transport. In areas where this population density is surpassed, the share of inhabitants serves as an indicator depicting development in the community structure and prerequisites for public transport. In this indicator, population density has been determined in statistical grids of 250 m x 250 m. The observation only includes the grids that were included in an urban area in a given year.

Out of all residents in urban areas, the share of those living in areas with at least 20 inhabitants per hectare was in decline from 2000 to 2012. After this, their share has started growing slightly. This change is underlined by a growth in the share of construction of blocks of flats and an increase in supplementary construction in relation to expansion construction located at the fringes of urban areas.

Population density has particularly been growing in many large urban areas which have the best prerequisites for becoming well-functioning cities with public transport. Sufficient density and inhabitant base also guarantee sufficient demand for frequently operating public transport services, which increases the rate of using public transport as the mode of transport to a fairly high level. As a result of urbanisation, an increasing number of Finns live in such an area.

In medium-sized and small urban areas, population density is highest in the centre of the area and its peripheral zones. Medium-sized regions have only few public transport routes and the frequency at which the services are provided tends to be relatively low. Small urban areas have barely any public transport services.  In medium-sized urban areas, goal-oriented supplementary construction supports retaining public transport services in suburbs. New transport services may also introduce smaller scale public transport solutions to small and medium-sized urban areas.

The increasing density of urban areas is supported by the population ageing trend, an increase in smaller households and a shift towards urban areas in people's wishes for housing (Strandell 2017). However, the city plans prepared in urban regions include a lot of areas reserved for the construction of new, low-density and low-rise developments in the fringe areas of the region (Ristimäki et al. 2017). The investments of municipalities in these areas increase pressure for the implementation of the plans although the developments would add to the decentralisation of the community structure. On the other hand, the plans also include relatively optimal locations for supplementary construction in favour of urban low-rise buildings, which could provide alternatives for the housing of, e.g. families with children within a moderate distance from a city centre.

Accessibility to convenience shops has also declined in urban areas

On average, convenience shop services are used more often than three times per week. Therefore, their location has a significant effect on the smoothness of daily life.  The availability of services particularly plays a key role for inhabitants with no car or of older age. As easily accessible services improve the opportunities for older persons to live independently in their own homes, many older persons seek housing located in the vicinity of services.

This indicator describes the share of inhabitants in a densely populated urban area living within at most 500 metres as the crow flies from the nearest convenience shop.

In total, the accessibility of a convenience shop in all urban areas has slightly improved in the 2000s. The urbanisation trend is behind this change, as a result of which an increasing number of people live in densely populated urban areas where a shop is typically located within a short distance. Efforts have also been made to attract trade to city centres and the centres of residential areas. While accessibility has improved in larger urban areas, it has slightly declined in many small urban areas and particularly diminished in rural areas.

However, the accessibility of convenience shops has also slightly weakened in urban areas since 2012. This is chiefly a result of the concentration of trade and reduction in the retail network, whose impacts will only become more apparent in coming years of observation. At the same time, the delivery methods of commercial services and, in particular, the food purchases of households, are undergoing a transformation.

Around 6,000 people live in areas with significant risk of flooding

Flood risks and related management are monitored as part of national adaptation to climate change. Preparation for floods and other risks pertaining to weather conditions and the climate is a form of anticipation aiming to reduce and prevent the risks concerning people's health and safety and the modern infrastructure. The Flood Centre predicts and warns against floods and maintains a continuous situational picture and flood map service which citizens can use to check whether they live in a flood area.

The indicator for the number of inhabitants in significant flood risk areas describes the risk for flooding based on rare flood events (statistical repeatability of around 1%, 1/100a, unless the significance is caused by a flood type other than a flood event originating from open waters, such as a flood caused by ice). The indicator takes into account the inhabitants living in areas of potential flood hazards whose accommodation has not been permanently protected against a flood.

In Finland, there are around 100 areas where a rise in the surface of water bodies or sea water may cause flood damage to people, buildings or other community. Of these, 21 areas have been recognised as potential significant flood risk areas.

Around 6,000 people live in these areas with significant risk of flooding. The amounts of inhabitants have increased in some of these places due to issues such as updates to the construction and property register used as the basis for the data. Flood maps or the elevation model used as their basis are also updated from time to time, which may also result in changes in the numbers. The significant flood risk areas will be revised at the end of 2018. The number and borders of the areas may be subject to changes, as a result of which the indicators may be subject to potentially big changes.

As a result of flood risk management measures, both flood risks and the number of inhabitants in the flood risk areas should gradually decline. For example, barely any new residential buildings are constructed in the flood risk areas, or, if they are built there, the flood risk is taken into account, e.g. by elevating the lowest floor of a building or constructing it to be as insusceptible as possible. However, barely any of the existing building stock is eliminated from these areas, which means that any development will only be visible in the very long term.

Along with floods caused by bodies of water and sea water, increasing attention must be paid to heavy rain and the storm water floods caused by these in densely constructed areas. Preparation against floods involves planning risk management, regional flood mapping and carrying out other planned measures. Flood risk management plans present the objectives and measures for managing flood risks. The main emphasis is currently on measures that do not involve significant construction, including directing construction outside the areas susceptible to floods, flood water retention and warning against floods. In cities, storm water floods caused by heavy rain can be prevented by improving the efficiency of storm water management and protection of buildings as well as by increasing the number of green spaces and water areas and other surfaces that delay water flow between urban structures.

Reservations related to the indicators and their interpretation, and needs for further research

The Residents' barometer survey, carried out around once every six years, produces important information related to the housing and communities’ basket. The Residents' barometer for 2016 was published in the publication series of the Finnish Environment Institute. See: Strandell, A. (2017).

The flood risk indicator is being developed. In the future, the value of the indicator can be affected by issues such as changes in vulnerability or the probability of a flood, the development of mapping methods and updates to location data sets as well as changes in the size of an area subject to flood mapping or the borders of an area at a high flood risk.


The interpretation text was compiled by Minister of the Environment Laura Höijer.

The interpretation text was prepared in cooperation with public officials and specialists from the Ministry of the Environment, Finnish Environment Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.