Population and ethnography
Up until the 18th century, when Danish missionaries and
traders gained influence, Greenland's Inuit served as
nomadic hunters; the main wild area was sea mammals and wild
animals. Nowadays, mixed marriages between Inuit and Danes
are quite common, and most Greenlanders (Kalaallites) have
lived in permanent villages since the 1950s.
Due to changes in climate and market opportunities,
fishing has gradually replaced hunting as the main source of
supply. This process began with rising fish prices in the
1920s. Nowadays, fishing (including shrimp fishing) is the
dominant source of income, although many catchers pursue
seal hunting as a side job. Hunting still plays a certain
role and is considered an integral part of Greenlandic
culture and identity.
In southwest Greenland, several Greenlanders have since
established themselves as sheep farmers since the last half
of the 20th century. Only in the northernmost Thule area and
along the north-east coast are there Inuit who have retained
their traditional hunter culture. Greenlandic culture is now
strongly intertwined with Danish.
The population since the beginning of the 20th century
has almost quadrupled from 12,000 residents in 1900 to
56,000 residents in 2015. Improved health care (including an
effective fight against TBC and improved housing conditions)
has led to both a marked decline in child mortality and an
increased life expectancy. The increasing number of children
raised problems and in the late 1960s a campaign for family
planning was started.
During the 1970s, birth rates began to decline, to
stabilize at 1 percent per year during the 1980s. In 2015,
the birth and death figures were 14 and 8 per thousand
respectively, which gives a natural population growth of 0.6
percent. The declining birth rates of recent decades have
resulted in more even distribution of age among the
population. Life expectancy has increased significantly
since the early 1950s, both for women and for men. Compared
to the Nordic countries, however, it is still low.
Of the population, 89 percent are Greenlanders and the
remainder are mostly Danish. The settlement in Greenland
extends along the entire coast, from Qaanaaq (Thule) in the
northwest to Ittoqqortoormiit in the northeast. The highest
population density is along the coast of western Greenland,
where more than 90 percent of the residents live. There are
also all major cities: the capital Nuuk (Godthåb) with
17,316 residents (2016), Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg) with 5,539
residents, Ilulissat (Jakobshavn) with 4,442 residents,
Aasiaat (Egedesminde) with 3,134 residents and Maniitsoq
(the sugar pie)) with 2,567 residents.
Urbanization has been rapid since the 1960s, and cities'
share of the country's population has increased from 58
percent in 1960 to 86 percent in 2015.
The most widely spoken language in Greenland is
Greenlandic (Kalaallit oqaasii), which is also the official
language. A large minority (about 14%), especially in
cities, speak Danish. Danish is used in administration,
trade and technology and is still the main language in
higher education. The school places great emphasis on
teaching in Greenlandic, which also children of
Danish-speaking parents have to learn and whose field of
application is being expanded partly at the expense of
Danish. The church is mainly Greenlandic, but the
Danish-speaking minority participates in special services in
Following the Home Rule proclamation in 1979, several
Danish place names were replaced with Greenlandic
counterparts in official use, e.g. Nuuk for
Godthåb, Ilulissat for Jakobshavn.
The Norwegian settlers brought Christianity to Greenland
as early as the 11th century, and in 1126 a bishopric was
established in Gardar (Igaliko); it became subordinate to
Nidaros (now Trondheim) when it became the Archbishop's seat
in 1153. There were also two monasteries. All this
disappeared when Norwegian society collapsed. A new
missionary activity was started in Greenland by Hans Egede
in 1721. The majority of the population today belongs to the
Danish Church (the Danish People's Church), which is
governed by a Deputy Bishop of Nuuk (Godthåb). According to
the 1953 Constitution, freedom of religion prevails.
On the traditional religion of the Greenlanders, see