Demographics of Iceland

Iceland Demographics Typical Man

Iceland is an isolated country famously known as the Land of Fire and Ice because of stunning contrasts and majestic views. Volcanoes topped with ice caps next to geothermal natural hot springs and national parks are peppered throughout this beautiful region. As a visitor, you might wonder what is the population of Iceland or be curious regarding facts about the Iceland population. For a long time, the demographics of Iceland have been quite homogenous. 

Iceland Demographics Typical Couple

Demographics of Iceland

Even the current language has not changed much from the original language spoken by the Norsemen settlers. Language is a huge part of Icelandic culture and is a unifying factor for the country. The isolated geographic location has also made it easy to maintain the typical Icelandic population and culture.

In addition, in the mid-1990s, it was mandatory for any immigrants who gained Icelandic citizenship to take on an Icelandic name. Then after the banking emergency in 2008 and the spectacular volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, any tourism from air travel was suspended. 

These events temporarily isolated the country again but in recent years there has been a surge of steady economic growth. Booming tourism revealed the wonders of this country to the world and has attracted many immigrants to the island for work opportunities. This wave facilitated a true increase in diversity among the population. Let’s learn more about how the demographics of Iceland changed over time.

What is the Population of Iceland?

The current total population of Iceland in 2019 was about 357,000. This number has increased significantly from 339,747 which was the estimated population in July 2017. Overall the population of Iceland is very small in comparison to other locations. It ranks 180 out of 233 countries and dependencies in the world based on population. The Icelandic population density is only 3 people per square kilometer, calculated by the land area of 100,250 square kilometers.

It has been said that a well-known Norseman sailor, Flóki Vilgerðarson, gave Iceland its name because of ice drifting in the fjords. These severe geographical landscapes like inhospitable areas such as the Highlands are one of the main reasons the population remains low. Other factors include severe winters, famines, and volcanic eruptions. Fortunately, living conditions became more tenable over time and the population has grown. However, out of all European countries, Iceland ranks the lowest in population density.

The geographic layout of the country requires most of the population (94.3 percent) to live in urban areas. More than half of the population lives near or inside Reykjavik and the Capital Region. Other popular cities in the Capital Region are Kopavogur and Hafnarfjoerdur. The famous capital city, Reykjavik ranks globally as one of the safest and greenest cities to live in. Reykjavik’s many charms have attracted tourism from all over the world.

The Impact of Immigration

Historically the population of Iceland has changed because of emigration during times of economic crisis and also when people left temporarily. When Icelanders leave temporarily, it is usually for two and a half years to receive education or special training in useful professions. About 80 percent of Icelanders who moved from Iceland between the years of 1986 to 2008 actually returned home. This is a high return and speaks to the love Icelanders have for their North Atlantic country. Most of the individuals who returned to Iceland probably spoke the language, had family ties and social connections. Thus, there was no need to make any new laws or change customs.

The original Icelanders have Nordic and Gaelic roots. There was a study that revealed male and female Icelanders have different origins. Women had predominantly Gaelic roots while most of the men had Nordic origins. In 1996, the demographics of Iceland were almost 100 percent homogenous. Clocking in at 95 percent of the population with no foreign background and only direct hereditary roots to the country. 20 years later and Iceland is still predominantly homogenous culturally and historically.

Iceland Demographics Icelandic Woman

But in 2017, the demographics of Iceland started to shift. The percentage of pure Icelanders dropped from 95 percent to 83 percent. Foreign-born citizens have increased from 5 percent to 11 percent and now about 17 percent of the total population has diverse origins.

Iceland’s Immigrant Population

The largest ethnic group in Iceland is Polish and they comprise only 3 percent of the total population. But the Polish families and workers have established such a strong presence they even have a Polish only grocery store in town. Many Poles see their time in Iceland as only temporary therefore they haven’t integrated with the language. This is why the government put policies in place to help integrate foreigners into Icelandic culture. Icelanders are also uncomfortable with the number of people with Icelandic descent living abroad. For example, Canada has about 88,000 people of Icelandic origins and over 40,000 people living in the United States.

Iceland Demographics Immigration People Moving

Diversity and Jobs

The increase in diversity is from work opportunities and tourism. Iceland’s economy centers on the fishing industry, welding, and seafood equipment manufacturing. Processing plant owners needed workers and they recognized the importance of Polish and other immigrant workers. Therefore, businesses are in support of foreign workers becoming part of Icelandic society. The population change caused new sets of laws to accommodate the influx of foreign workers.

Citizenship Laws

In 1952, Iceland created citizenship laws that are still in effect today but have been modified over time to accommodate foreigners. Initially, foreigners needed to change their names to make them sound more Icelandic. They also needed to learn the Icelandic language. This was to ensure cultural integrity and customs. Then in 1996 the government removed the mandatory name change but kept understanding the basics of Icelandic as a condition of citizenship. The 1952 Citizenship Act officially recognized dual citizenship when it was updated again in 2003.

In 2007, the entire citizenship process was further simplified. Integration foreign policy emphasized democracy, human rights, liberty, and a sense of communal responsibility. Since Icelandic language comprehension is essential to function in society there is also educational support to help facilitate foreigner integration. The goal of the policy was to secure all citizens of Iceland had equal opportunities and were positive members of society. In 2009, Iceland passed another immigration policy to teach immigrants about their citizenship rights and ensure they had these rights protected.

Iceland Population Male Female

In Iceland, the male population is about 183,000 while the female population is roughly 174,000. The Iceland population male-female is a little skewed, but not by much. This difference is the result of international migration by men to work in fields that had economic expansion such as construction. 

In 2017, the workforce participation rate by gender was 86 percent for men and only 79 percent for women. There is also a 16 percent pay gap between men and women. Despite the pay gap and uneven workforce participation, Iceland has the highest ranking for gender equality. In 1980, Vigdís Fimbogadóttir became the first female president elected in Europe. However, there is room for improvement by decreasing the pay gap and increasing the number of women in elected positions.

Iceland Demographics Female Politicians

Facts About Iceland Population

Iceland has freedom of religion but most Icelanders are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland officially. Other Christian denominations include the Roman Catholic Church and two free churches, Reykjavik Free Church and Hafnarfjordur Free Church. In addition, other religions include Zuist and Pentecostal as well as Ásatrú, the ancient Norse religion.

The population in Iceland is very young considering it’s a developed country. The median age is at only 36.5 years but the total life expectancy is high, at about 83 years. The largest age group is 25-54 years, which comprises 39.9 percent of the total population. The second-largest age group is 0-14 years that accounts for 19.4 percent of the population. The next group is 65 years and older which is 15.6 percent of the population.

The birth rates in Iceland have been declining over the years; currently it is 2.005 births per 1000 people, which is 2.59 percent lower than in 2015. The fertility rate used to be one of the highest among European countries but now it’s only 1.8 births per woman. The dropping rates directly relate to the cost of childcare and having children at older ages. Emigration, fertility, mortality, and international migration account for the population growth in Iceland. However, despite low fertility rates, international migration from foreign workers will cause the population to steadily increase.

Iceland’s Ever Shifting Demographics

Iceland is a small but mighty country, which will adeptly evolve and develop over time as international immigration and tourism continues to rise.

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