Data: Estonian citizens around the world

Over 121,000 Estonian citizens live outside of Estonia; Alexandre Willik Neto, a Brazilian-Estonian who was born in Brazil and is also an Estonian citizen, analyses the data on where exactly these Estonians live.

“I must be the only Estonian citizen born in this particular state of Brazil” is a phrase I usually say to my friends to emphasise two interesting facts: first, that the number of Estonian citizens in the world is relatively small; and second, that every Estonian citizen is the potential protagonist of an interesting statistic.

According to Statistics Estonia, there were 1,328,439 people living in Estonia as of the beginning of 2022. At this scale, it only takes a few intersections with other group categories et voilà: someone can claim to be the only French teacher with a black belt in karate in the country, or the only software engineer that also plays the harpsichord in the country.

I always assumed that, for Estonian citizens living outside of Estonia, an even smaller number of intersections would be required to result in interesting claims: the only Estonian football player in the country, the only Estonian university teacher in the country, the only Estonian pianist in the country, up to the only Estonian citizen in the country.

Identifying as Estonian and being a citizen are two different things

For quite a while I’ve been interested in knowing how many Estonian citizens lived in Brazil, my country of birth, and elsewhere. Earlier this year, I asked the Estonian interior ministry for the relevant data. To my surprise, after one or two days they sent me a spreadsheet containing a list of countries and territories around the world and the number of Estonian citizens living in each of them as of 21 February 2022. The number of Estonian citizens living outside of Estonia was 121,520 as of that date.

It should be noted that the dataset does not necessarily refer to people who identify as ethnic Estonians across the world, but rather to the number of Estonian citizens (ie people bearing an Estonian passport) living outside of Estonia. Also, the data was anonymised, meaning only the number of Estonians in each country, not their identities, was included in the database.

With the dataset in hand, I decided to undertake an exploratory data analysis exercise to see if I could draw insights from the data.

At first, I wanted to train a machine learning model on the dataset. More specifically, I thought on dividing the countries into groups, each group representing a band for the number of Estonian citizens (eg, from one to a hundred Estonian citizens, from 101 to 1,000 Estonian citizens etc), which would then lead to training a model that predicted the group to which each country belongs.

However, after speaking with data scientist friends, I was reminded of a general principle: only use machine learning tools if necessary. Since I already had all the data for the number of Estonians in (almost) every country, I concluded that creating a classifier model for this variable would not bring up anything useful. It isn’t as if this classifier could be used to predict the range of Estonian citizens in countries outside the dataset, since most countries and territories have already been included.

Historical factors need to be taken into the account

Also, given the rules regarding citizenship in Estonia, according to which a person born to a parent who is an Estonian citizen is also a citizen themself, the number of Estonian citizens in a country in a given year would be more accurately modelled by demographic models.

These models would require demographic data, such as the number of Estonian citizens in each country in previous years, birth and death rates among Estonian citizens living abroad, migration data etc. Since none of this data was available to me at the time of this analysis, I decided not to pursue building prediction models for the chosen target variable.

Historical factors, such as migration waves and the context in which they happened, need also to be taken into consideration. In the case of Brazil, for example, 1,692 Estonians arrived in Brazil in 1925, with a considerable number of Estonians moving to the South American country between 1924 and 1926. My great-grandfather was one of them. Almost 100 years later, 632 Estonian citizens were living in Brazil as of 21 February 2022.

Other countries that previously had a higher number of Estonian citizens living in them might have experienced reductions on this number due to migration influenced by events such as war, economic crisis or major political changes.

Most Estonians abroad live in Finland

Moreover, it is important to mention that, while we may run a myriad of calculations with the numbers in the dataset, the data are related to real people, with personal stories that cannot be lumped together and summarised into a couple of numerical and categorical features without incurring in significant loss of information.

A country may now have Estonian citizens as part of its population because 100 years ago an Estonian citizen decided to move to the country, decided to stay long term and start a family. Another country might be temporarily hosting an Estonian citizen on their gap year. Personal factors like these come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes and strongly influence the number of Estonian citizens living in a given country.

Finally, it is important to mention that, given that the values in the dataset refer to 21 February 2022, this analysis does not take into account the dire ramifications resulting from the war in Ukraine.

After this brief disclaimer, here’s a summary of the findings from this exercise. The tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across the top 20 countries with the highest number of Estonian citizens.

Finland is on the top of the list, followed by Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is located only about 82 kilometres (50 miles) from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, with the Gulf of Finland standing between the two cities. Estonia and Finland share many things in common and the history of the relationship between the two countries inspires many interesting reads.

The majority of Estonians in abroad live elsewhere in Europe

The figure below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens around the world as seen on a map. The bigger the size of the circle, the larger the number of Estonian citizens in a given country.

The vast majority (>88%) of Estonian citizens outside of Estonia as of 21 February 2022 lived in Europe, followed by the Americas, Oceania, Asia and Africa, with the latter continent being home to less than 0.2% of the total number of Estonian citizens living abroad. The tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens living abroad across the continents.

From the tree map below, we note that, as of 21 February 2022, most Estonian citizens in Europe lived in Northern Europe, followed by Eastern Europe, Western Europe and Southern Europe. Finland had the highest number of Estonian citizens in Europe, with 54,158 Estonian citizens, while North Macedonia, with only one Estonian citizen recorded to be living in its territory, had the lowest number of Estonian citizens in Europe.

The figure below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across European countries as seen on a map.

There are even Estonians living in Venezuela

The tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across the Americas. The US is on the top of the list, with 4,821 Estonian citizens, followed by Canada, Brazil and Venezuela.

As the countries from Central America and the Caribbean were barely visible on the previous graph, the tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across the two regions. Honduras and Mexico are on the top of the list for this group, with 64 and 28 Estonian citizens living in the countries, respectively. All other countries in the two regions were home to less than 10 Estonian citizens each as of 21 February 2022.

The tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across Oceania as of 21 February 2022. Most Estonian citizens in the region live in Australia (3,002) and New Zealand (176).

As the countries from other subregions in Oceania were barely visible on the previous graph, the tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across the other countries and territories of Oceania.

Only a handful of Estonian citizens live in Africa

The distribution of the 1,730 Estonian citizens living in Asia as of 21 February 2022 is shown on the tree map below. Around 77% of Estonian citizens living in Asia live in countries in Western Asia, with Israel at the top of the list for the region.

Finally, the tree map below shows the distribution of Estonian citizens across Africa. There were 147 Estonian citizens living in the continent as of 21 February 2022, with 88 of them living in South Africa. (Click to open the dynamic version of this visualisation, as some country names are not visible on the static version).

Moving on from analysing tree maps, the graph below shows the number of Estonian citizens in each country plotted against the distance between the capital city of each country and Tallinn. The aim here is to group countries that have similar distances from Estonia together and compare the number of Estonian citizens living in each of them.

We can see that most countries with more than 200 Estonian citizens have their capital cities located within a radius of 3,000 km from Tallinn, most of them in Europe. The exceptions are the US, Canada, Australia, Israel, Brazil and Venezuela.

It’s easier to move to EU countries than elsewhere

The graph below shows the number of Estonian citizens in each country plotted against the GDP PPP per capita of each country. We can see that 14 out of the top 20 countries by number of Estonian citizens had an GDP PPP per capita higher than INT$50,000, which increases to nine out of ten when we look at the top 10 countries.

It is important to mention that one needs to be careful not to imply causality between the GDP and the number of Estonians living in a country, for most Estonians living abroad live in European countries, which presented higher indices GDP PPP per capita on the dataset. As Estonia is a member of the European Union, and since European citizens can live and work in EU countries without the need for a visa, it is easier for an Estonian citizen to move to EU countries than elsewhere.

The graph below is a combination of the previous two visualisations, the GDP PPP per capita of each country plotted against the distance between each country’s capital and Tallinn. Also, the bigger size of each circle in the graph, the larger the number of Estonian citizens living in the country.

The last graph of this analysis is a bar graph with the number of Estonian citizens living in countries with a small population (less than 100,000 people) as of 21 February 2022.

There are Estonians even in the Vatican

To draw my analysis to a close, I want to comment on two things that caught my attention on the previous graph. First, the dataset counts two Estonian citizens living in the Vatican. I wonder if any of the cardinals have an Estonian passport, or maybe one of the members of the Swiss Guard.

Second, five people with Estonian citizenship reportedly live in the United States Minor Outlying Islands. With the population of these islands being less than 500 people at the time of writing and given the remoteness of the many islands that make up the territory, I suspect this entry may be a result of errors of input.

Maybe some of the people living in the United States were filling an online form and inadvertently selected the similarly named territory, but, who knows?

What I know is that, with 632 Estonian citizens living in Brazil, and assuming that many of them were born in Brazil, at the end of the day I might not even be the only Estonian born in my state.

1 thought on “Data: Estonian citizens around the world”

  1. If you leave out the citizenship, and go by their nationallity there are a lot more Estonians in US,
    Canada and Austrailia. After the 2nd.WW. more than 20,000 Estonians ended up in the US. and the same number in Canada.

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