A tätort in Sweden has a minimum of 200 inhabitants and may be a city, town or larger village. Urban areas referred to as cities/towns (stad) for statistical purposes have a minimum of 10,000 inhabitants. However, since 1971, the term "stad" is no longer in use as a judicial concept in Sweden.
Up until the beginning of the 20th century, only the cities were regarded as urban areas. The built-up area and the municipal entity were normally almost congruent. Urbanization and industrialization created, however, many new settlements without formal city status. New suburbs grew up just outside city limits, being de facto urban but de jure rural. This was of course a statistical problem. The census of 1910 introduced the concept of "densely populated localities in the countryside". The term tätort (literally "dense place") was introduced in 1930. The municipal amalgamations placed more and more rural areas within city municipalities, which was the other side of the same problem. The administrative boundaries were in fact not suitable for defining rural and urban populations. From 1950 rural and urban areas had to be separated even within city limits, as e.g. the huge wilderness around Kiruna had been declared a "city" in 1948. From 1965 only non-administrative localities are counted, independently of municipal and county borders. In 1971 city was abolished as a type of municipality.
Map of Sweden showing all urban areas (cities and towns) with a population of more than 20,000.
Urban areas in the meaning of tätort are defined independently on the division into counties and municipalities, and are defined solely according to population density. In practice, most references in Sweden are to municipalities, not specifically to towns or cities, which complicates international comparisons. Most municipalities contain many localities (up to 26 in Kristianstad Municipality), but some localities are, on the other hand, multimunicipal ; Stockholm urban area is spread over 11 municipalities.
When comparing the population of different cities, the urban area (tätort) population is to prefer ahead of the population of the municipality. The population of e.g. Stockholm should be accounted as ~1.2 million rather than the ~800,000 of the municipality, and Lund rather ~75,000 than ~110,000.
Tätort (= urban area or locality) is the central concept used in statistics. The definition is agreed upon in the Nordic countries: A tätort is any village, town or city with a population of at least 200 for which the contiguous built-up area meet the criterion that houses are not more than 200 meters apart when discounting rivers, parks, roads, etc. Every fifth year (2000, 2005 etc.) the localities are revised and new population figures released.
Småort (= smaller locality) is a rural locality with 50–199 inhabitants in a contiguous built-up area with no more than 150 meters between houses. The concept is rarely used outside the field of statistics, where it is used for settlements just below the limit defined for tätort.
Stad (= town or city) is in a context of statistics restricted to urban areas with a population greater than 10,000. Judicially, the term stad is obsolete since 1971, and is now mostly used describing localities which formerly were chartered towns. The statistical category "large town" used by Statistics Sweden include municipalities with more than 90,000 inhabitants within a 30 km radius from the municipality centre. There is also a category medelstor stad "middle large town".
Köping (= market town) was also abolished as an official term in 1971 in governmental and statistical contexts, and is only rarely kept in use by laymen, although it has survived as part of the names of several smaller towns. The meaning was a locality with an intermediary legal status below that of a town.
Municipalsamhälle (= municipal community) was a term in use between 1875 and 1971, but it is no longer used outside of historical contexts. In 1863, Sweden was divided into 2,500 municipalities, whereof 89 were towns, 8 were market towns (köpingar) and the rest rural municipalities ("landskommuner"). A "municipalsamhälle" was an administrative centre for one or several rural municipalities, with special regulations and privileges in common with towns. The term became obsolete in 1971 when the different types of municipalities were abandoned and a standard form for all municipalities was introduced.
Samhälle (= community) is a common concept used by for urban areas that are intermediary in size between a town and a village. The term "samhälle" is also used in Swedish to denote "society", "community" or "state". (Compare: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.) A samhälle does not necessarily meet the criteria for the current tätort – or even småort concept.
By (= village and hamlet) is a traditional term but may in colloquial use refer to a suburb or town of considerable size. If at all used in the context of statistics, it must be assumed that the size of a by is smaller than that of a småort. (NB! Not to be confused with the same word in Danish and Norwegian, where it means town, while a village is called landsby.)
Fritidshusområde (= seasonal area) is in statistical context an area with less than 50 permanent inhabitants but at least 50 houses (in practice: weekend cottages/summer houses) meeting the criterion that they are not more than 150 metres apart. About a third of Sweden's "second homes" are located in such areas. The term belongs also to everyday usage, although less strictly defined.
Förstad and förort (= suburb) are much used terms with a somewhat negative connotation.
Data are computed by Statistics Sweden every five years. The latest data are as of 31 December 2005. Then the total population of the urban areas (or localities) in Sweden was 7,631,952 on an area of 5,286.23 km², which gives an average population density of 1,444/km².
84% of the Swedish population lives in localities (i.e. in tätorter)
50% lives in the 64 largest urban areas
A third lives in the 15 largest urban areas
A quarter lives in the 5 largest
The largest and most populous urban area is Stockholm