The Population of Iceland

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Iceland is located in Northern Europe between Greenland and the North Atlantic Ocean.(Geography,Government,History,Iceland, n.d)  Encompassing an area roughly the size of the U.S. State of Kentucky, the country has a population of 339,747 as of July 2017 (Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2018) spreading over an area of 103,000 km2, (BBC News, 2017)  making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The main ethnic group is Icelandic which accounts for 94% of the countries total population while 6%  is of foreign origin, primarily of Polish descent (CIA, 2018)

Population growth rate

The country has a population growth rate of 1.13% as of 2017 (CIA, 2018). The country has a fertility rate of 2 children per woman, meaning it is one of the few countries in Europe with a replacement value population growth rate. The rate of population growth has somewhat steadied over the last four decades. In the early 1970s, the annual growth rate stood at 1.3% while in the mid and late 1970s, the population growth rate was 0.9%.(U.N., 2005) The growth rate between 1980 to 2005 averaged 1.0%. Following the economic crisis of 2008, the country experienced negative population growth of -0.4% in 2010 (OECD, 2018). The growth rate has picked up slowly peaking at 1.13% in 2017.

Birth rate and death rate

Typically, Iceland has low birth and death rate as is the case with other developed economies. The birth rate in 2017 was 13.7 live births per 1000 people (CIA, 2018). Iceland also has low death rate at 6.4 deaths per 1000 people in 2017. Life expectancy at birth is 80 years for men and 84 years for women (BBC News, 2017).

Urbanization and population distribution

Iceland is a highly urbanized nation in which 94.3% of the total population live in urban settings (CIA, 2018). Over half of the country's population lives in and around Reykjavik, the country's capital. The remaining population is located in several coastal towns and communities found along the north and the west of the country (CIA, 2018). The major towns are Reykjavik, Hafnafjohour, Akureyri, Selfoss, and Keflavik.

Population distribution by age groups

Iceland has a relatively young population compared to other developed countries. The median age of the country is 36.5 years which is considerably low among the developed economies (CIA, 2018). In Iceland, 20.4% of the population consists of children aged below 15 years, 13.5% consists of people aged between 15 to 24 years,  39.88%  consists of people aged between 25 to 54 years, 11.81 % consists of people aged between 55 to 64 years, and 14.42% are aged 65 years and older (CIA, 2018).

Migration data

Iceland has an estimated net migration rate of 4 migrants per 1000 people as of 2017 (CIA, 2018). The percentage of foreign-born persons in the country has been increasing of late. In 2013, the country had 11.5% foreign-born population (OECD, 2018).


The major language of the country is the Icelandic language. Other languages spoken in the country include English, Nordic languages, German and Polish. (CIA, 2018) Icelandic is a North Germanic language that is closely related to Faroese and Norwegian language groups (Kwintessential, n.d). 97% of Icelanders speak Icelandic as their mother-tongue.

English and Danish are compulsory subjects in the Icelandic school system and therefore widely understood. The Polish language is spoken by the significant Polish community in Iceland.

Per capita income and wealth distribution

As of 2016, the GDP per capita of Iceland was $50, 752 when calculated on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) (OECD, 2018). CIA estimates the GDP per capita to be $52,000 in 2017, making Iceland number 24 on the global GDP per capita ranking (CIA, 2018). Iceland has a Nordic social welfare system hence high quality of life and high tax rates. Iceland has very low unemployment rates. The unemployment rate peaked at 9.4%  in 2009 following the 2008 banking crisis but the situation has changed dramatically over the past decade (CIA, 2018). In 2016, the unemployment rate stood at 3% and in 2017 the unemployment rate was 2.8%. Wealth is evenly distributed with virtually all of the households in the country living above the poverty line.

Labor market

The total labor force of Iceland is 200,000.(CIA, 2018) Iceland spends 7.8% of its GDP on education and has a very skilled labor force in which 40% of the population aged between 24 to 65 years have attained college-level education or higher (OECD, 2018). The overall literacy rate is among the highest in the world and generally, people stay in education longer.

Iceland has no legal minimum wage.(State Department, 2016) Wages can be negotiated through collective bargaining agreements between workers and the stakeholders in their area of occupation. and such agreements apply to all workers in the sector or firm. Still, the government has put regulations to ensure that people work in a conducive environment with minimal exploitation.

Health Issues

The Icelandic government spent 8.6% of GDP on health in 2016. (OECD, 2018) Like in other Nordic countries, Iceland has a universal healthcare system which is paid for largely by taxes and service fees. Icelandic citizens enjoy high-quality medical care (State Department, 2017) and have an average life expectancy age of 83 years which is the sixth highest in the world.(BBC News, 2017) The Icelandic medical care system is available only to residents. The country has 3.7 doctors per thousand population.

From an environmental perspective, Iceland uses geothermal energy to cater for its household and industrial needs. This is in sharp contrast to other developed economies which rely on fossil and nuclear energy. Iceland's geographic location in the Arctic region, green energy economy, and low population density has resulted in the country having clean air that is free of toxic pollutants. The major concern to public health is the volcanic activity on the island which presents serious health risk to inhabitants in case of a volcanic eruption (CIA, 2018).

People and Society

Iceland is a highly egalitarian society with one of the lowest inequality rates in the world. Wealth is evenly distributed throughout the society. Icelanders have a very high work ethic and work for long hours compared to other industrialized nations. In 2016, the average worker in the country worked for 1883 hours a year making the country's population very highly productive (OECD, 2018). 

For centuries, Iceland was isolated from the rest of the world which enabled Icelanders to maintain their old Nordic culture (Iceland Facts, n.d). A perfect example is Icelandic language which is closely related to the old Norse language. Fish is an important part of the Icelandic diet. Also popular are; puffin, whale blubber, whale steaks, and seal meat. The Icelandic culture values family and generally, people rate family as more important than social life, personal wealth and work (Iceland Facts, n.d). From a fashion perspective, Icelanders wear modern clothes from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe.

Iceland is a democratic society headed by a constitutional government. (Library of Congress (LOC), n.d) Generally, Iceland is a very tolerant society that has approved same-sex marriages in 2010 (LOC, 2014). The country has traditionally had an open attitude towards homosexuality and was the first country to elect an openly gay leader.


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Central Intelligence Agency. (2018). The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved from

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Iceland Facts, Culture, Recipes, Language, Government, Eating, Geography, Maps, History, Weather, News, Economy, Family, Fashion, Events – CountryReports (n.d)  Retrieved  from

Kwintessential. (n.d). Icelandic. Retrieved from

Library of Congress (LOC). (n.d). Iceland. Retrieved from

Library of Congress. (2014) Iceland: Same-Sex Marriage Approved | Global Legal Monitor. Retrieved  from

OECD. (2018). Country statistical profile: Iceland 2018/2. Retrieved from

U.S. State Department. (2016). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 Iceland. Retrieved from

  U.S. State Department. (2017). Iceland. Retrieved  from

 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2005). Iceland. Retrieved from information

August 01, 2023

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