Finns are traditionally divided into smaller regional groups that span several countries adjacent to Finland, both those who are native to these countries as well as those who have resettled. Also, some of these may be classified as separate ethnic groups, rather than subgroups of Finns. These include the Kvens and Forest Finns in Norway, the Tornedalians in Sweden, and the Ingrian Finns in Russia.
Finnish, the language spoken by most Finnic people, is closely related to other Finnic languages, e.g. Estonian and Karelian. The Finnic languages are a subgroup of the larger Uralic family of languages, which also includes Hungarian. These languages are markedly different from most other languages spoken in Europe, which belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Native Finns can also be divided according to dialect into subgroups sometimes called heimo (lit. tribe), although such divisions have become less important due to internal migration.
Today, there are approximately 6–7 million ethnic Finns and their descendants worldwide, with majority of them living in their native Finland and the surrounding countries, namely Sweden, Russia and Norway. Overseas Finnish diaspora has long been established in the countries of the Americas and Oceania, with the population of primarily immigrant background, namely Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
|c. 6.2–7 million[a]|
|Regions with significant populations|
Finland 4.87–5.1 million[b]|
(with all Karelians)[a]
(with Ingrian Finns)
|Germany||16,000 (in 2002)|
(including Forest Finns
12,961 (in 2016)|
(up to 40,000
|France||6,000 (in 2005)|
2,453 (in 2013)
Predominantly Lutheranism |
|Related ethnic groups|
Other Baltic Finns|
(especially Forest Finns, Ingrian Finns and Tornedalians)
a The total figure is merely a sum of all the referenced populations listed.
b No official statistics are kept on ethnicity. However, statistics of the Finnish population according to first language and citizenship are documented and available.
The Population Register Centre maintains information on the birthplace, citizenship and mother tongue of the people living in Finland, but does not specifically categorize any as Finns by ethnicity.
The majority of people living in the Republic of Finland consider Finnish to be their first language. According to Statistics Finland, of the country's total population of 5,503,297 at the end of 2016, 88.3% (or 4,857,795) considered Finnish to be their native language. It is not known how many of the ethnic Finns living outside Finland speak Finnish as their first language.
In addition to the Finnish-speaking inhabitants of Finland, the Kvens (people of Finnish descent in Norway), the Tornedalians (people of Finnish descent in northernmost Sweden), and the Karelians in the historic Finnish province of Karelia and Evangelical Lutheran Ingrian Finns (both in the northwestern Russian Federation), as well as Finnish expatriates in various countries, are Finnic people.
Finns have been traditionally divided into sub-groups (heimot in Finnish) along regional, dialectical or ethnographical lines. These subgroups include the people of Finland Proper (varsinaissuomalaiset), Satakunta (satakuntalaiset), Tavastia (hämäläiset), Savo (savolaiset), Karelia (karjalaiset) and Ostrobothnia (pohjalaiset). These sub-groups express regional self-identity with varying frequency and significance.
There are a number of distinct dialects (murre s. murteet pl. in Finnish) of the Finnish language spoken in Finland, although the exclusive use of the standard Finnish (yleiskieli)—both in its formal written (kirjakieli) and more casual spoken (puhekieli) form—in Finnish schools, in the media, and in popular culture, along with internal migration and urbanization, have considerably diminished the use of regional varieties, especially since the middle of the 20th century. Historically, there were three dialects: the South-Western (Lounaismurteet), Tavastian (Hämeen murre), and Karelian (Karjalan murre). These and neighboring languages mixed with each other in various ways as the population spread out, and evolved into the Southern Ostrobothnian (Etelä-Pohjanmaan murre), Central Ostrobothnian (Keski-Pohjanmaan murre), Northern Ostrobothnian (Pohjois-Pohjanmaan murre), Far-Northern (Peräpohjolan murre), Savonian (Savon murre), and South-Eastern (Kaakkois-Suomen murteet) aka South Karelian (Karjalan murre) dialects.
The Sweden Finns are either native to Sweden or have emigrated from Finland to Sweden. An estimated 450,000 first- or second-generation immigrants from Finland live in Sweden, of which approximately half speak Finnish. The majority moved from Finland to Sweden following the Second World War, taking advantage of the rapidly expanding Swedish economy. This emigration peaked in 1970 and has been declining since. There is also a native Finnish-speaking minority in Sweden, the Tornedalians in the border area in the extreme north of Sweden. The Finnish language has official status as one of five minority languages in Sweden, but only in the five northernmost municipalities in Sweden.
The term Finns is also used for other Finnic peoples, including Izhorians in Ingria, Karelians in Karelia and Veps in the former Veps National Volost, all in Russia. Among these groups, the Karelians is the most populous one, followed by the Ingrians. According to a 2002 census, it was found that Ingrians also identify with Finnish ethnic identity, referring to themselves as Ingrian Finns.
The Finnish term for Finns is suomalaiset (sing. suomalainen).
It is a matter of debate how best to designate the Finnish-speakers of Sweden, all of whom have migrated to Sweden from Finland. Terms used include Sweden Finns and Finnish Swedes, with a distinction almost always made between more recent Finnish immigrants, most of whom have arrived after World War II, and Tornedalians, who have lived along what is now the Swedish-Finnish border since the 15th century. The term "Finn" occasionally also has the meaning "a member of a people speaking Finnish or a Finnic language".
Historical references to Northern Europe are scarce, and the names given to its peoples and geographic regions are obscure; therefore, the etymologies of the names are questionable. Such names as Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnum appear in a few written texts starting from about two millennia ago in association with peoples located in a northern part of Europe, but the real meaning of these terms is debatable. The earliest mentions of this kind are usually interpreted to have meant Fennoscandian hunter-gatherers whose closest successors in modern terms would be the Sami people. It has been suggested that this non-Uralic ethnonym is of Germanic language origin and related to such words as finthan (Old High German) 'find', 'notice'; fanthian (Old High German) 'check', 'try'; and fendo (Old High German) and vende (Old Middle German) 'pedestrian', 'wanderer'. Another etymological interpretation associates this ethnonym with fen in a more toponymical approach. Yet another theory postulates that the words finn and kven are cognates. The Icelandic Eddas and Norse sagas (11th to 14th centuries), some of the oldest written sources probably originating from the closest proximity, use words like finnr and finnas inconsistently. However, most of the time they seem to mean northern dwellers with a mobile life style. An etymological link between the Sami and the Finns exists in modern Uralic languages as well. It has been proposed that e.g. the toponyms Sápmi (Sami for Lapland), Suomi (Finnish for Finland), and Häme (Finnish for Tavastia) are of the same origin, the source of which might be related to the proto-Baltic word *žeme / Slavic земля (zemlja) meaning 'land'. It has been proposed that these designations started to mean specifically people in Southwestern Finland (Finland Proper, Varsinais-Suomi) and later the whole area of modern Finland. But it is not known how, why, and when this occurred. Petri Kallio has suggested that the name Suomi may bear even earlier Indo-European echoes with the original meaning of either "land" or "human".
The first known mention of Finns is in the Old English poem Widsith which was compiled in the 10th century, though its contents is probably older. Among the first written sources possibly designating western Finland as the land of Finns are also two rune stones. One of these is in Söderby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont (U 582), and the other is in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi (G 319 M) dating from the 11th century.
With regard to the ancestry of the Finnish people, the modern view emphasizes the overall continuity in Finland's archeological finds and (earlier more obvious) linguistic surroundings. Archeological data suggest the spreading of at least cultural influences from many sources ranging from the south-east to the south-west following gradual developments rather than clear-cut migrations.
Just as uncertain are the possible mediators and the timelines for the development of the Uralic majority language of the Finns. On the basis of comparative linguistics, it has been suggested that the separation of the Finnic and the Sami languages took place during the 2nd millennium BC, and that the Proto-Uralic roots of the entire language group date from about the 6th to the 8th millennium BC. When the Uralic languages were first spoken in the area of contemporary Finland is debated. It is thought that Proto-Finnic (the proto-language of the Finnic languages) was not spoken in modern Finland, because the maximum divergence of the daughter languages occurs in modern-day Estonia. Therefore, Finnish was already a separate language when arriving in Finland. Furthermore, the traditional Finnish lexicon has a large number of words (about one-third) without a known etymology, hinting at the existence of a disappeared Paleo-European language; these include toponyms such as niemi "peninsula". Because the Finnish language itself reached a written form only in the 16th century, little primary data remains of early Finnish life. For example, the origins of such cultural icons as the sauna, the kantele (an instrument of the zither family), and the Kalevala (national epic) have remained rather obscure.
Agriculture supplemented by fishing and hunting has been the traditional livelihood among Finns. Slash-and-burn agriculture was practiced in the forest-covered east by Eastern Finns up to the 19th century. Agriculture, along with the language, distinguishes Finns from the Sami, who retained the hunter-gatherer lifestyle longer and moved to coastal fishing and reindeer herding. Following industrialization and modernization of Finland, most Finns were urbanized and employed in modern service and manufacturing occupations, with agriculture becoming a minor employer (see Economy of Finland).
Christianity spread to Finland from the Medieval times onward and original native traditions of Finnish paganism have become extinct. Finnish paganism combined various layers of Finnic, Norse, Germanic and Baltic paganism. Finnic Jumala was some sort of sky-god and is shared with Estonia. Belief of a thunder-god, Ukko or Perkele, may have Baltic origins. Elements had their own protectors, such as Ahti for waterways and Tapio for forests. Local animistic deities, "haltia", which resemble Scandinavian tomte, were also given offerings to, and bear worship was also known. Finnish neopaganism or "suomenusko" attempts to revive these traditions, which however had a break, and has not attracted a significant number of followers.
Christianity was introduced to Finns and Karelians from the east, in the form of Eastern Orthodoxy from the Medieval times onwards. However, Swedish kings and Catholic Church conquered western parts of Finland in the late 13th century, imposing Roman Catholicism. Reformation in Sweden had the important effect that bishop Mikael Agricola, a student of Martin Luther, introduced written Finnish, and literacy became common during the 18th century. When Finland became independent, it was overwhelmingly Lutheran Protestant. A small number of Eastern Orthodox Finns were also included, thus the Finnish government recognized both religions as "national religions". In 2017 70.9% of the population of Finland belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, 1.1% to the Finnish Orthodox Church, 1.6% to other religious groups and 26.3% had no religious affiliation. Whereas, in Russian Ingria, there were both Lutheran and Orthodox Finns; the former were identified as Ingrian Finns while the latter were considered Izhorans or Karelians.
Finnic people are traditionally assumed to originate from two different populations speaking different dialects of Proto-Finnic (kantasuomi). Thus, a division into West Finnish and East Finnish is made. Further, there are subgroups, traditionally called heimo, according to dialects and local culture. Although ostensibly based on late Iron Age settlement patterns, the heimos have been constructed according to dialect during the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.
The historical provinces of Finland can be seen to approximate some of these divisions. The regions of Finland, another remnant of a past governing system, can be seen to reflect a further manifestation of a local identity.
Today's (urbanized) Finns are not usually aware of the concept of 'heimo' nor do they typically identify with one (except maybe Southern Ostrobothnians), although the use of dialects has experienced a recent revival. Urbanized Finns do not necessarily know a particular dialect and tend to use standard Finnish or city slang but they may switch to a dialect when visiting their native area.
Recently, the use of mitochondrial "mtDNA" (female lineage) and Y-chromosomal "Y-DNA" (male lineage) DNA-markers in tracing back the history of human populations has been started. For the paternal and maternal genetic lineages of Finnish people and other peoples, see, e.g., the National Geographic Genographic Project and the Suomi DNA-projekti. Haplogroup U5 is estimated to be the oldest mtDNA haplogroup in Europe and is found in the whole of Europe at a low frequency, but seems to be found in significantly higher levels among Finns, Estonians and the Sami people. The original European hunter-gatherers that populated large parts of Europe before the early farmers appeared are outside the genetic variation of modern populations, but most similar to Finnish individuals.
With regard to the Y-chromosome, the most common haplogroups of the Finns are N1c (59%), I1a (28%), R1a (5%) and R1b (3.5%). Haplogroup N1c, which is found mainly in a few countries in Europe (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Russia), is a subgroup of the haplogroup N (Y-DNA) distributed across northern Eurasia and estimated in a 2006 study to be 10,000–20,000 years old and suggested to have entered Europe about 12,000–14,000 years ago from Asia.
Variation within Finns is, according to fixation index (FST) values, greater than anywhere else in Europe. Greatest intra-Finnish FST distance is found about 60, greatest intra-Swedish FST distance about 25. FST distances between for example Germans, French and Hungarians is only 10, and between Estonians, Russians and Poles it is also 10. Thus Finns from different parts of the country are more remote from each other genetically compared to many European peoples between themselves. The closest genetic relatives for Finns are Estonians (FST to Helsinki 40 and to Kuusamo 90) and Swedes (FST to Helsinki 50 and to Kuusamo 100). The FST values given here are actual values multiplied by 10,000. The great intra-Finnish (FST) distance between Western Finns and Eastern Finns supports the theorized dual origin of the Finns based on the regional distribution of the two major Y-DNA haplogroups, N1c in Eastern Finland and I1a in Western Finland.
Finns show very little if any Mediterranean and African genes but on the other hand almost 10% of Finnish genes seem to be shared with Siberian populations. Nevertheless, more than 80% of Finnish genes are from a single ancient Northeastern European population, while most Europeans are a mixture of 3 or more principal components.
Until the 1970s, most linguists believed that Finns arrived in Finland as late as the first centuries AD. But accumulating archaeological data suggests that the area of contemporary Finland had been inhabited continuously since the end of the ice age, contrary to the earlier idea that the area had experienced long uninhabited intervals. The hunter-gatherer Sami were pushed into the more remote northern regions.
A hugely controversial theory is so-called refugia. This was proposed in the 1990s by Kalevi Wiik, a professor emeritus of phonetics at the University of Turku. According to this theory, Finno-Ugric speakers spread north as the Ice age ended. They populated central and northern Europe, while Basque speakers populated western Europe. As agriculture spread from the southeast into Europe, the Indo-European languages spread among the hunter-gatherers. In this process, both the hunter-gatherers speaking Finno-Ugric and those speaking Basque learned how to cultivate land and became Indo-Europeanized. According to Wiik, this is how the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Baltic languages were formed. The linguistic ancestors of modern Finns did not switch their language due to their isolated location. The main supporters of Wiik's theory are Professor Ago Künnap (Univ. of Tartu), Professor Kyösti Julku (Univ. of Oulu) and Associate Professor Angela Marcantonio (Univ. of Rome). Wiik has not presented his theories in peer-reviewed scientific publications. Many scholars in Finno-Ugrian studies have strongly criticized the theory. Especially Professor Raimo Anttila, Petri Kallio and brothers Ante and Aslak Aikio have renounced Wiik's theory with strong words, hinting strongly to pseudoscience and even at right-wing political biases among Wiik's supporters. Moreover, some dismissed the entire idea of refugia, due to the existence even today of arctic and subarctic peoples. The most heated debate took place in the Finnish journal Kaltio during autumn 2002. Since then, the debate has calmed, each side retaining their positions. While the refugium theory proved unpopular among Finns, substantial genotype analyses across the greater European genetic landscape have mostly confirmed the Last Glacial Maximum refugiums to be correct and have substantial backing of the greater scientific community. But this does not in any way corroborate or prove that these 'refugia' spoke Uralic/Finnic, as it belies wholly independent variables that are not necessarily coeval (i.e. language spreads and genetic expansions can occur independently, at different times and in different directions).
Finns 93.4%, Swede 5.6%, other 1% (2006).