Karl Ritter

STOCKHOLM: Famous for its efforts to put women on an equal footing with men, Sweden is experiencing a gender balance shift that has caught the country by surprise: For the first time since record-keeping began in 1749, it now has more men than women.

Swedes don’t quite know what to make of this sudden male surplus, which is highly unusual in the West, where women historically have been in the majority in almost every country. But it may be a sign of things to come in Europe as changes in life expectancy and migration transform demographics.

“This is a novel phenomenon for Europe,” said Francesco Billari, a University of Oxford demographer who is president of the European Association for Population Studies. “We as researchers have not been on top of this.”

The tipping point in Sweden happened in March last year, when population statistics showed 277 more men than women. The gap has since grown to beyond 12,000. While that’s still small in a population of almost 10 million, it’s “not unreasonable” to suspect that Sweden will have a big male surplus in the future, said Tomas Johansson, a population expert at the national statistics agency, SCB.

Despite a natural birth rate of about 105 boys born for every 100 girls, European women have historically outnumbered men because they live longer. An Associated Press analysis of national and European Union population statistics suggests women will remain in the majority in most European countries for decades to come. But the number of men per 100 women, known as the sex ratio, is increasing, slowly in Europe as a whole and quickly in some northern and central European countries.

Norway swung to a male surplus in 2011, four years before Sweden, while Denmark and Switzerland are nearing a sex ratio of 100. Germany, which had an unnatural deficit of men after two world wars, has seen its sex ratio jump from 87 in 1960 to 96 last year.

Tomas Sobotka, of the Vienna Institute of Demography, said in theory a male surplus could increase the bargaining power of women by allowing them to be choosier when picking a partner. But they could also face an increased risk of harassment from frustrated males struggling to find a mate.

Statistics officials say Sweden’s demographic shift is mainly due to men catching up with women in terms of life expectancy. But the arrival in recent years of tens of thousands of unaccompanied teenage boys from Afghanistan, Syria and North Africa is also having a significant impact.