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.
According to Countryaah data, 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 Danish.
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 circumpolar religions.