Demographic and ethno-cultural characteristics of the population


The share of residents with Estonian citizenship has been on a similar level over the last 10 years. As at the end of 2021, 84.7% of the residents in Estonia have Estonian citizenship. In the previous census in 2011, the share of residents with Estonian citizenship was 85.2%. In the 2000 census, their share was 80%.

There has been a significant decline in the number of persons with undetermined citizenship. The number of residents with Russian citizenship has also decreased again: it was 86,067 in 2000, rose to 90,510 by 2011, and fell down to 81,695 in 2021. The biggest increase has occurred in the number of persons with Ukrainian citizenship: it was 2,867 in the 2000 census and 4,756 in the 2011 census, while as many as 15,935 Ukrainian citizens were enumerated in the 2021 census.

All in all, there are citizens of 151 countries living in Estonia. This is more than ten years ago, as there were 118 different citizenships enumerated in the 2011 census.

See the chart for more details.

Ethnic nationality

The number of ethnic nationalities represented among the population is bigger than ever, but the share of Estonians in the population has not decreased.

According to the 2021 census, there are people of 211 ethnic nationalities living in Estonia. This number was 180 in the 2011 census and 142 in the 2000 census. In earlier censuses, the registered number of ethnic nationalities was around one hundred: 108 in 1989, 109 in 1979, 107 in 1970 and 100 in 1959.

Naturally, Estonians constitute the largest share of the population in Estonia. Based on the 2021 census, 69.4%* of the residents are Estonians. In the 2011 census, this share was 0.4 percentage points higher – 69.8%*. However, the share of Estonians has been lower in several past censuses: in 2000 (68.3%*), in 1989 (61.5%), in 1979 (64.7%) and in 1970 (68.2%). Based on census data, the share of Estonians in the total population was the highest (74.6%) in 1959. (*The share of Estonians is calculated from the population whose ethnic nationality is known.)

Considering other ethnic nationalities, the biggest increase has occurred in the number of Ukrainians: compared to 2011, the number of Ukrainians has risen by 5,255, from 22,573 to 27,828. The fastest growth has occurred in the number of Igbo people – there was just one Igbo enumerated in the 2011 census, whereas in the 2021 census the number of Igbo people was already 152.

Explore the chart for more information.

In the national development strategy “Estonia 2035”, one of the key objectives is that the share of Estonians in the population should be about 67%. In Estonia as a whole, this indicator is currently 2.4 percentage points higher (69.4%), but there are considerable regional variations.

Explore the chart for more information.

Mother tongue

The share of the population whose mother tongue is Estonian has not increased, but there has been a significant rise in the number of languages spoken as the mother tongue in Estonia.

The number of mother tongues represented in Estonia has increased since the 2000 census. 109 different mother tongues were counted in 2000, while this number was 157 in the 2011 census and 243 in the 2021 census. The newly added languages with the highest number of native speakers include, for example, Iranian languages (62), Niger-Kordofanian languages (20), Sindhi (19) and Mandar (15).

See the figure for more information.

Based on the 2021 census, the share of the population whose mother tongue is Estonian has decreased by 0.9 percentage points compared to the 2011 census. On the other hand, the number of residents whose mother tongue is Estonian has risen by 8,277 compared to 2011. The fall in the share of native Estonian speakers despite the simultaneous rise in the total number of speakers is due to the fact that the overall population of Estonia has increased, but this has mostly been on account of native speakers of other languages.

Legal marital status

There are fewer marriages than 20 years ago.

As at the end of 2021, 37.8% of the population were legally married. The share of married residents was 39.4% in 2011 and 46.5% in 2000. It means that fewer people get married, but the sharpest decline in the number of marriages occurred already between 2000 and 2011.

The share of persons who are married has decreased the most in age group 20–35. On the other hand, in younger age groups, the fall in the share of people getting married also means that there is a smaller share of those who are divorced. Among residents aged 50 and over, the share of those who are divorced is actually bigger according to the 2021 census than 20 years before.

See the figure for more information.

Women and children

Women are having children later, but the average number of children has not changed.

Based on the 2000 census, women aged 25–29 had 1 child, on average, while in the 2021 census the corresponding indicator was just 0.6. This shows that the age of women at the birth of the first child has risen.

In 2000, women aged 35–39 had 1.8 children, on average, whereas now, in 2021, the average was 1.6 children per woman of this age. In the case of women aged 40–44 and women aged 45–49, the average number of children was the same in both 2000 and 2021 – 1.9 for either age group.

See the figure for changes in the average number of children in different age groups.

Let’s focus on the three older age groups (35–39, 40–44 and 45–49) and look at the average number of children per woman in these age groups.

In all three age groups, there has been a rise in the share of women who have not given birth. For example, in 2000, 9.9% of women aged 35–39 did not have any children, while in the 2021 census the share of such women was already 18.2%. However, in the age group 45–49, the differences are marginal: the share of women in this age group who had not given birth was 9% in 2000 and 11.8% in 2021.

In all three age groups, there has been a decrease in the share of women with two children and a slight increase in the share of women with three children.

See the figure for more information.


The population and housing census of 2021 was primarily register-based, but data on certain self-assessed indicators such as religion, dialects spoken, and health status were also collected through a sample survey. Nearly half of Estonia’s population participated in the survey and the results are generalisable to the whole population. Read more about the combined methodology here.

All people aged 15 and over were asked about their religious affiliation. Answering questions about the respondent’s beliefs (including religion) was optional. Respondents were first asked whether they had an affiliation to any religion [1]. If the answer was “yes”, they were invited to name this religion [2].

The share of the religiously affiliated has remained the same

It turns out that the majority (58%) of people in Estonia[3] do not have an affiliation to any religion. 13% were not willing to answer this question. 29% identify with a religion and this percentage has not changed in the last three censuses.

However, the proportion of people who do not feel an affiliation to any religion has increased compared with that of previous censuses. While in 2011 the share of such persons was 54%, by 2021 it had risen to 58%. The increase has come mainly from among those who previously preferred not to answer this question. In 2011, the non-response rate was 14%, whereas this time it is 13%.

As mentioned above, 29% of people aged 15 and over in Estonia feel affiliated with a religion. The most common religions are still Orthodoxy (16%) and Lutheranism (8%). People with other religious affiliations account for 5% of the total population.

Compared with previous censuses, it is noteworthy that the share of Lutherans has continued to fall: they accounted for 14% in the 2000 census, 10% in 2011, and only 8% in last year's census.

The proportion of Orthodox Christians, however, has increased slightly over the last two decades: from 14% in 2000 to 16% in both 2011 and 2021.

The decline in the number and proportion of Lutherans, while the number of Orthodox Christians has increased, is affected by the ethnicity and age distribution of people who feel affiliation to these religions. Lutheranism continues to be the most widespread religion among Estonians and Orthodoxy among Russians and other Slavs.

The share of other religions in the population has changed less since the previous census, mostly remaining the same or increasing slightly. People of other religious affiliations accounted for 5% of the population in 2021 and for 3% in both 2011 and 2000. For example, an increase by 0.4 percentage points was recorded in the proportion of Catholics (0.4% in 2011 and 0.8% in 2021) and Muslims (0.1% in 2011, 0.5% in 2021), while the share of members of Christian Free Congregations has risen by 0.3 percentage points (0.2% in 2011 and 0.5% in 2021).

Older people and women are more likely to profess religious affiliation

Having a religious affiliation varies by sex, age, and ethnicity, among other things. 43% of people aged 65 and over report an affiliation to a religion, whereas only 14% of people in the 15–29 age group do. Among followers of almost all religions, there are relatively fewer younger people than older ones.

The age distribution of adherents is also different for each religion. The average Lutheran is 62 years old, with as many as 50% of Lutherans being older than 64. The average Orthodox Christian is 55 years old, but the age distribution among adherents of Orthodoxy is slightly more even – 9% are aged 30 and under, 29% are in the age range of 30–49 years, 27% are aged 50–64, and 35% are over 64 years old.

When comparing religion and age groups across the whole population, it is clear that the religions most common in Estonia are more prevalent in older age groups. For example, 23% of people aged 65 and over are Orthodox and 16% are Lutheran. In the youngest age group surveyed, Lutherans and Orthodox Christians together make up 10% of the total population in that age group.

While more than half of the adherents to the most prevalent religions in Estonia are aged 50 and over, with fewer followers among younger people, Islam and Pentecostalism have a relatively younger following. 29% of Muslims and 21% of Pentecostals are under 30 years old. The proportion of people under the age of 50 is also high among Buddhists (69%), Methodists (59%), members of Christian Free Congregations (57%), and Catholics (53%).

As in previous censuses, women outnumber men among the religiously affiliated. 32% of women and 25% of men have an affiliation to a religion. In 2011, the respective proportions were 34% and 24%. Greater prevalence of religiosity among women is characteristic of all age groups, and the gap widens with age.

There are more non-believers among Estonians than among other ethnicities

In comparison with other major ethnic groups living in this country, Estonians are the least religiously affiliated ethnicity – only 17% of them claim affiliation to a religion, while as many as 71% are non-believers. For comparison: in the previous census of 2011, 19% of ethnic Estonians reported being affiliated with a religion. The proportion of the religiously affiliated is higher among Slavs – 65% among Belarusians, 56% among Ukrainians, and 54% among Russians. For comparison: 19% of Estonians and 51% of Russians had a religious affiliation in 2011.

Orthodoxy is the main religion held by Slavs in Estonia: 50% of Russians, 47% of Ukrainians, and 58% of Belarusians are affiliated with it. Lutheranism is the most prevalent religion among ethnic Estonians. 11% of them consider themselves to be affiliated with it, while 3% are Orthodox Christians. Lutheranism is also the most widespread faith among local Finns (28%) and Orthodoxy among Latvians (14%). People of other ethnicities are most likely to be Orthodox (15%) and Muslim (14%).

Command of languages

Information on command of languages was collected through the population and housing census survey from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022. Responses to the questions on languages spoken are generalisable to the whole population aged 3 and over (data on language command was not collected for children under the age of 3). 

A person are deemed to speak the language in question if his or her language skills enable him/her to manage with speaking, writing, and reading in familiar language use situations. If a person lacks one of the skills but another skill seems to exceed the above requirements, the language could still be indicated. For example, people can consider themselves to have command of a language if they speak the language quite fluently but cannot write in it. This includes, for instance, Russian children in Estonian kindergartens who speak Estonian but cannot read or write it. The census did not survey the level of language proficiency.  

According to the 2021 census, 76% of the inhabitants of Estonia, i.e. 975,320 people, speak a foreign language. In the 2011 census, 69% of the population (856,225 people) spoke a foreign language, up from 64% (851,639 people) in 2000. The number of foreign language speakers has therefore increased steadily over the last three censuses. 

One in two inhabitants of Estonia with command of foreign languages speak one foreign language (48%) and one in three speak two (35%). Of those with command of foreign languages, 13% speak three and 3% speak four or more foreign languages.
The share of the population speaking only their mother tongue, i.e. people with no command of foreign languages, is 24% in 2021. This is down from 2011 when 30% spoke only their mother tongue, but unchanged from 2000.  

English is the most widely spoken foreign language in Estonia

The top three foreign languages have remained the same in the last three censuses. However, there has been one noticeable change – while at the time of the previous censuses the most common foreign language in Estonia was Russian, it is now English. 

48% of the population speaks English. In 2011, the figure was 40%, and 26% spoke English in 2000. 

This is followed by Russian, with 39% of the population speaking it according to the 2021 census. 44% spoke Russian in 2011 and 43% did in 2000. 
The third most widely spoken foreign language in Estonia in all three censuses is Estonian, spoken as a foreign language by 17% of the population (223,950 people). In 2011, 14% of the population spoke Estonian as a foreign language and 13% did so in 2000. 

84% of the population speak Estonian 

In the following, we look at the command of languages of Estonia’s population in terms of both speaking a language as a mother tongue and as a foreign language. 

Estonian is spoken as a mother tongue by 67% and as a foreign language by 17% of inhabitants. This means that 84% of people living in Estonia speak or understand Estonian. Russian is the next most widely spoken language, with 29% speaking it as their mother tongue and 38% as a foreign language (67% in total). English is spoken by 47% of the population, only 0.3% of them native speakers. Estonian, Russian, and English are followed by Finnish (0.3% speak it as their mother tongue and 10% as a foreign language) and German (0.1% and 7%, respectively). Thus, only Estonian can be said to have more native speakers than those who speak it as a foreign language. 

Interesting trends emerge when looking at command of languages in various age groups. It turns out that Russian speakers outnumber Estonian speakers in the older age groups. For instance, 90% of 50–64-year-olds speak Russian, while 81% speak Estonian. The share of Finnish speakers in the 50–64 age group is also high – 19% –, whereas only 5% of 15–29-year-olds speak Finnish. By contrast, the proportion of English speakers is highest in the 15–29 age group – 85%. These trends reflect generational changes – English has replaced Russian and Finnish. 

Command of dialects

Local language form or dialect means local language customs that are different from the Estonian literary standard, not foreign languages. A person who speaks a local language form is someone who understands and can also express oneself in this language. Data on command of dialects was collected with the 2021 population and housing census survey for all Estonian-speaking persons aged 3 and over.

At the time of the 2021 census, 17% of the native Estonian-speaking population speak a dialect. The proportion of dialect speakers has increased compared with the previous census – it was 15% in 2011. 

The highest proportions of dialect speakers by county are in Võru (74%), Põlva (60%), and Saare (42%) counties. The lowest shares of dialect speakers are found in Ida-Viru (8%), Lääne (7%), and Lääne-Viru (6%) counties. 

Among municipalities, Kihnu (83%), Setomaa (79%), Rõuge (79%), Võru (77%), and Antsla (70%) rural municipalities lead in terms of the proportion of dialect speakers. The lowest shares of dialect speakers are found in Väike-Maarja rural municipality and Rakvere city, with 5% in each.   

Across the whole of Estonia, the Võru dialect group stands out, with 11% of the native Estonian-speaking population speaking its subdialects. This group includes the Setu subdialect, which is spoken by 3% of the population. Other notable dialects are the Insular dialect, spoken by 4%, and the Tartu and Mulgi dialects, spoken by 2% of the population. The subdialects in the remaining dialect groups are spoken by less than 1% of the population.


[1] Do you have any religious affiliation? Response options: yes, no, not willing to answer.

[2] Please select in the list below your religious affiliation.

[3] Here and hereafter only people aged 15 and over are included in the analysis on religious affiliation.