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Switzerland has a permanent resident population of some 7.7 million, 22% of whom are foreign nationals. It has a relatively low birth rate compared to other European countries, with the number of births averaging 1.4 per woman. In 2008, Switzerland’s population grew by 1.4%, an increase driven chiefly by immigration. Although the number of single- and two-person households in Switzerland is on the rise, half of the population still live in a family household with children.
- Resident permanent population: Mn 7.7
- Foreign residents: % 21.7
- Population growth: % 1.4
- Population density: Residents/km2 184
- Average household size: No. of persons 2.3
- Private households: Mn 3.3
- Single-person households: % 36.9
- Family households: % 61.8
- Non-family households: % 1.3
- Age groups, 0-15: % 16
15-24: % 12
25-49: % 37
50-64: % 19
65 +: % 16
- Children per woman: No. 1.4
- Life expectancy - Men: Years 79.2
- Life expectancy - Women: Years 84.2
- Social transfers: % of GDP 25.4
(Swiss Federal Statistical Office 2008)
Switzerland is a densely populated country, with most people living on the Central Plateau. However, some parts of the country are sparsely populated, or have no human population at all. One third of the population live in or around Switzerland’s five major cities - Zurich, Basle, Geneva, Berne and Lausanne. One third live in other urban centres, while the remaining third live in rural areas.
Switzerland is a multicultural and multilingual country. This is due, in no small part, to geography, as Switzerland shares its borders with three major European cultures - German-speaking Europe, France, and Italy.
Switzerland has four national languages, some of which are spoken more widely than others.
- German (64%): Two-thirds of the population live in Switzerland’s 17 German-speaking cantons. In addition to speaking standard German, each canton has its own distinct Swiss-German dialect.
- French (20%): Western Switzerland (“Romandie”) is home to the country’s native French speakers. The cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura are exclusively French-speaking, while the cantons of Berne, Fribourg and Valais are bilingual (French and German).
- Italian (6%): Italian is the official language of Ticino and the southern valleys of Graubünden. However, the Lombard dialect is generally spoken in rural areas and in some towns.
- Rumantsch: This language is descended from Vulgar Latin and is spoken in the only trilingual canton, Graubünden. The other two languages spoken there are German and Italian. Only 0.5% of the Swiss population are native Rumantsch speakers, making it the least spoken of the four national languages.
Most Swiss speak more than one language, be it another national language or English. Foreign nationals living in Switzerland have brought with them their own languages too.
The different cultures within Switzerland are strongly influenced by the countries which border them and whose language they share. Each of Switzerland’s four linguistic regions has its own radio programmes and newspapers.
More than 1.5 million foreigners live in Switzerland. Close to one quarter were born here, making them second or third generation immigrants. Compared to other countries, Switzerland has a relatively high share of foreign residents, which can be largely attributed to its strict naturalisation procedure. During the 20th century, the proportion of foreigners varied considerably, reflecting changes in the economy and the labour market. At the end of the 1960s, the first wave of seasonal workers arrived from Italy. They were followed by workers from Spain, Portugal and Yugoslavia. Today Italians make up the largest group of foreign residents (17.5%), followed by Germans (14.1%), Portuguese (11.8%) and nationals from Serbia and Montenegro (11.1%). The overwhelming majority of Switzerland’s foreign residents (86.5%) are from European countries.
Switzerland is not solely a country of immigration - there are currently 676,000 Swiss living overseas. France hosts by far the largest number of Swiss residents, followed by the US and Germany. Swiss citizens who are resident in another country can still vote in Swiss referenda and elections via mail-in ballot. The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad (ASO) and the Service for the Swiss Abroad of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) look after the interests of the Swiss expatriate community.
Switzerland is a predominantly Christian state. According to the most recent statistics, 42% of the Swiss population are Catholics and 36% Protestants. Muslims are the third largest religious group. The share of people who declare no religious affiliation is rising fast, with more than 11% of the current population falling into this category.
Many of Switzerland’s festivals, customs and traditions have religious roots.
Anyone who lives in Switzerland is subject to compulsory health insurance. The first Federal Act on Health and Accident Insurance (KUVG) came into force in 1914. It was replaced in 1996 by the Federal Health Insurance Act (KVG). There are 390 medical doctors in Switzerland for every 100,000 residents. Healthcare expenditure is on the rise: in 2007 it accounted for 11.3% of GDP compared to 8.1% in 1990. There are several reasons behind this increase: a broader range of services covered by the health insurance scheme, greater specialisation and technological advances, and an ageing population.
The Swiss old-age insurance system is known as the "three-pillar" system:
- The first pillar is a compulsory, state insurance scheme and comprises the old-age and survivors’ insurance which was introduced in 1948. At that time, ten workers funded the pension of one retiree. Today, the ratio is only four to one.
- The second pillar, or occupational pension plan, is compulsory for wage-earners. Employers and employees pay equal contributions into an occupational pension fund.
- The third pillar is voluntary. It is a private saving scheme, which offers everyone the opportunity to boost their retirement income. In Switzerland, the statutory retirement age is 65 for men and 64 for women.