The genetic differentiation of populations is usually studied by using the equilibrium theory of Wright’s infinite island model. In practice, however, populations are not always in equilibrium, and the number of subpopulations is often very small. To get some insight into the dynamics of genetic differentiation of these populations, numerical computations are conducted about the expected gene diversities within and between subpopulations by using the finite island model. It is shown that the equilibrium values of gene diversities (Hs and HT) and the coefficient of genetic differentiation (GST) depend on the pattern of population subdivision as well as on migration and that the GST value is always smaller than that for the infinite island model. When the number of migrants per subpopulation per generation is greater than 1, the equilibrium values of Hs and HT are close to those for panmictic populations, as noted by previous authors. However, the values of HS, HT, and GST in transient populations depend on the pattern of population subdivision, and it may take a long time for them to reach the 95 per cent range of the equilibrium values. The implications of the results obtained for the conservation of genetic variability in small populations are discussed. It is argued that any single principle should not be imposed as a general guideline for the management of small populations.