Median Age in Iceland Lower Than Anywhere in European Union

Iceland flag national team

According to new data published by Eurostat last week, the median age of the European Union population was 44.4 years old as of January 1, 2022. The median age in Iceland, 36.7, is far lower—lower in fact, than in any country in the EU.

Iceland is not a member of the EU, but it is part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), along with Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Eurostat measures the median age in EFTA countries alongside that of countries in the EU.

In 2022, the median age in EU countries ranged from 38.8 in Ireland and 39.7 in Luxembourg to 46.8 in Portugal, 46.1 in Greece, and 48.0 in Italy.

The median age in the EU has increased by 2.5 years since 2012, when it was 41.9 years. This is an average of .25 years annually. Iceland’s median age has also increased since 2012, but less than it has in the EU: it’s only gone up 1.4 years in the last ten years. The only EU countries that did not see an increase in their median age last year were Malta and Sweden. There was no change at all in Malta, where the median age remains 40.4 years. Sweden’s median age went down, if only incrementally, from 40.8 years in 2012 to 40.7 years in 2022.

Europe facing a ‘marked transition towards a much older population structure’

The recent Eurostat findings also measured what it calls the “old-age dependency ratio,” that is, “the number of elderly people (aged 65 and over) compared to the number of people of working age (15-64).” In 2022, more than one fifth of the EU population (21.1%) was aged 65 and over. Demographic aging is “likely to be of major significance in the coming decades,” reads the report. “Consistently low birth rates and higher life expectancy are transforming the shape of the EU’s age pyramid; probably the most important change will be the marked transition towards a much older population structure.”

As of 2022, the old-age dependency ratio in the EU increased to 33%, up 5.9 percentage points (pp) from 27.1%  in 2012. “This indicator varied among EU members,” explains the report, “but remained above 20% in all of them.” This is true in Iceland as well, where the old-age dependency ratio in 2022 was 22.5%, up from 18.9% in 2012.

Across the EU, there was an average increase of 3.1 pp in the share of the population aged 65 or over between 2012 and 2022. Considered alone, Iceland had less of an increase in this indicator, only going up 2.4 pp over ten years, but the country still experienced more of an increase in this indicator that a number of countries surveyed, including Latvia (2.3 pp), Switzerland (1.8 pp), Austria (1.6 pp), Sweden (1.5 pp), Germany (1.4 pp), and Luxembourg (.8 pp).

These findings are significant and are expected to dramatically impact daily life and economies throughout Europe in the future. As the Eurostat report explains, “As a result of demographic change, the proportion of people of working age in the EU is shrinking while the relative number of those retired is expanding. The share of older people in the total population is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. This may, in turn, lead to an increased burden on those of working age to provide for the social expenditure required by the ageing population for a range of related services.”

See Eurostat’s full summary of its findings, in English, here.

High Winds Thwart Hopes on Major Ski Weekend

North Iceland is entering its peak ski season, but the weather is not cooperating. Mbl.is reports that the Hlíðarfjall ski area closed at noon on Saturday and was not expected to reopen on Sunday, much to the disappointment of many capital-area dwellers who specifically traveled to Akureyri during schools’ winter break to ski.

Ski area director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirsson says that around 2,500 people visited Hlíðarfjall on Friday, making it the biggest day of the season yet.

“There are a lot of people from the south in town,” he noted on Saturday. “The weather was good yesterday, but we’ve got a low-pressure system today and tomorrow, so I don’t expect we’re going to be able to open tomorrow, unfortunately. The wind is just too strong.” Forecasts predicted winds of up to 25 mps [55 mi/hr] on Sunday.

Indeed, high winds have been quite a problem at Hlíðarfjall this winter. In late January, ICE-SAR had to rescue 20 people from one of the area’s chairlifts when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind. (The rescue took about two hours and no one was injured.)

Current conditions and information on ski area closures can be found on the Hlíðarfjall website, here.

Construction Begins on Country’s Largest Land-Based Aquaculture Facility

Construction has begun on what will become the largest land-based aquaculture facility in Iceland, Vísir reports. The company, Landseldi ehf. (also known in English as Deep Atlantic Salmon Project) bases its operations in Þorlákshöfn, South Iceland and eventually plans to raise 40,000 tons of salmon annually. It is also committed to utilizing all of the farm’s biproducts, or sludge, as a rich, “biologically perfect” fertilizer.

Founded in 2017 by entrepreneurs with experience in aquaculture, the construction industry, geothermal energy, and finance, Landeldi, ehf. says its mission is no less than to “inspire the global transition to fully sustainable food production, use terraforming aquaculture to rear an abundance of salmon on land, fertilize the earth, and regenerate the climate.” While fish farming in sea pens has been criticised for its environmental impact, fish farming in tanks on land eliminates many problems such as the possibility of farmed salmon mixing with wild fish and pollution from waste gathering on the ocean floor. Such operations require more energy, but Landeldi claims that Iceland’s geothermal energy can keep the production carbon-neutral and that 100% of the water used in its facility is renewable and sourced from boreholes in its ownership.

Will bring 170 new jobs to booming Þorlákshöfn

Landeldi’s current expansion is part of a three-phase plan. As the company’s website explains, their “production quantity will double every two years. Starting at 5,000 tons in 2022 it will have grown to at least 20,000 tons by 2027.”

The current phase will will create 170 new jobs in the town, which has itself seen enormous expansion in recent years, not least due to a local boom in land-based fish farming. When Landeldi began its first construction phase in 2021, three other companies were developing land-based aquaculture facilities there as well.

“The main construction will be of some 150 to 160 tanks, which will be carried out for a cost of around ISK 70 billion [$4.85 million; €4.59 million] over the next 10 years,” says Rúnar Þór Þórarinsson, Landeldi’s head of sustainability and development. “It’s a really big project and we’re well underway. We’ve had a hatchery at Öxnalækur [a land-based aquaculture farm not far from Þorlákshöfn], where we completely renovated the facilities, and which we bought as soon as the environmental assessment was done. We’ve got salmon in seawater tanks in Þorlákshöfn—big tanks, 15-20 m [49-65 ft]—and we’re building 25 and 30-meter [82 and 98-ft] tanks this year.”

‘The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts’

Þorlákshöfn is particularly well-situated for land-based aquaculture, says Rúnar Þór. “The conditions are unique there because we’ve got the sea, which Iceland itself filters for us. The strata are quite permeable, alternating between sand and [porous] rock, [which started out as lava] in volcanic eruptions 7,000 – 20,000 years ago. And the sea cleans out parasites, plastic particles, and other things that can harm the fish.” (See a more detailed description of this process on the Landeldi website, in English, here.)

Landeldi is also particularly proud of the unique system it has developed to utilize all of its facilities’ biowaste.

“The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts,” says Rúnar Þór. “This is in our DNA as a company. We intend to collect the fish manure and work with other fish farms to utilize it for the good of the land and support agriculture with fertilizer, biochar, and compost production by any means necessary.”

Thor the Walrus Takes a Break in Breiðdalsvík

Though no strangers to welcoming visitors to their picturesque hamlet, the residents of the East Iceland village of Breiðdalsvík received an entirely different kind of tourist on Friday morning. Austurfrétt reports that a walrus decided to sun itself on the village dock all day and rest up after what was, presumably, a very long swim. And, as the BBC later reported, the pooped-out pinniped was actually a celebrity on the sly: Thor the Walrus, who spent his winter traveling around the UK. So far this year, he’s visited the Netherlands and France and may have traveled from as far as the Canadian Arctic to get to Breiðdalsvík.

Walruses generally arrive on Icelandic shores from Greenland, which, depending on their point of departure, is a minimum of 300 km [186 mi] away. They are also known to regularly swim over from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Over the last few years, East Iceland has received a handful of walruses in its fjords. One such sighting occurred last year, on June 17, Iceland’s National Day, when a walrus appeared in the town of Reyðarfjörður. The animal had previously been chipped with a GPS device and had swum over from the Faroe Islands. And in September, the walrus known as Wally appeared in Höfn in Southeast Iceland having swum from Cork, Ireland.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

Fully grown male walruses can weigh around 900 kgs [1984 lbs] and be up to three m [9.8 ft] long. From pictures showing the length of its tusks, local biologists were able to determine that the walrus was either a young male or a female. British Divers Marine Life Rescue, an organization that had encountered the animal in the UK, was eventually able to identify Thor from his markings, specifically “pale patches on the animal’s foreflippers.” They confirmed that Thor is between three and five years old.

Although no walruses live in Iceland today, these animals were likely prevalent in Iceland in the old days, says said Skarpheiðin G. Þórisson, a biologist at the East Iceland Research Centre.. However, they were probably hunted to extinction here by the Vikings, for whom they would have been an important food source.

See Also: The Disappearance of the Icelandic Walrus (September 2019)

It’s important that people take care around these animals when they appear in human habitations. Walruses may be particularly sensitive when tired or disoriented, and are prone to lash out if they feel threatened. These animals may appear to be slow-moving, but on land, they can actually move about as fast as a running person. And they are, of course, capable of inflicting a great deal of damage with their powerful tusks. Residents in the seaside resort of Scarborough in the UK were particularly gracious hosts when Thor was in their midst, opting to cancel the town’s New Year’s fireworks display so as not to disturb their guest.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

On Friday, police asked people in Breiðdalsvík to keep a minimum of 20 m [65 ft] away from Thor for the animal’s safety, as well as their own. Dockworkers did put frozen herring out for their guest, but it didn’t seem to have any appetite. Many people also wanted to take pictures of the walrus, but they had to do so from a distance.

“We closed the gangway so people didn’t get too close,” said Bjarni Stefán Vilhjálmsson, who works for the local municipality. “We got here around 10 to do some work on the dock and that’s when we noticed him. He’d just gotten here.”

The walrus was still in the village when Bjarni spoke to reporters and he was able to describe the animal’s current mood: “He sort of raises himself up and growls if you get too close, he’s still really disoriented. Hopefully, he’ll just stay calm until he leaves. I don’t expect anything will drive him away. It’s no real bother, there’s obviously enough room for the boats that are here now. It remains to be seen if he’ll leave once the weather gets worse, but as long as it’s sunny and mild, I think he’ll probably hang out all day.”

Mayor Proposes Closing Reykjavík Municipal Archive for Budgetary Reasons

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed that the Reykjavík Municipal Archive be shut down for budgetary reasons, RÚV reports. Per the proposal, the archive’s primary functions would be assumed by the National Archive and the dissemination of, and educational outreach related to the archive’s holdings would become the responsibility of the Reykjavík City Museum. If the proposal is approved by the city council, Reykjavík would be the first municipality in the country to close a district archive, and perhaps the only European capital not to maintain its own archive.

The Reykjavík Municipal Archive was founded in 1954. It stores over 10,500 shelf metres of documents and has also increased its digital holdings and services in recent years.

Under Icelandic law, municipalities are permitted, but not required, to operate a district archive. Iceland’s National Archives already oversees archival duties for municipalities that do not maintain their own archives. The mayor’s proposal suggests that the capital simply follow suit, as costs of effectively maintaining an archive are only expected to increase in order to keep pace with the demands of record keeping in the digital era.

In 2022, it cost the City of Reykjavík over ISK 170 million [$1.18 million; €1.10 million] to operate its Municipal Archive. It is expected to cost an additional ISK 10 million [$69,587; €64,910] to operate the archive in 2023. According to archivist Svanhildur Bogadóttir, however, the actual cost to run the archive is relatively low; a third of their budget goes towards the rent they pay the City of Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Archive does not have resources to fulfil its mandate, says private audit

The mayor’s proposal comes in the wake of an assessment conducted by auditing and accounting firm KPMG, which states that based on current funding, the Reykjavík Municipal Archive does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. KPMG’s assessment suggests that beyond the basic savings associated with greater cooperation between the Municipal and National Archives, this arrangement would also lend itself to a number of additional benefits: better facilities, better use of staff expertise, and improved services.

Although they were aware that KPMG was conducting an assessment related to “strategic planning” for the Municipal Archive, none of the employees had any idea that there was talk of closing their place of work all together before the mayor submitted his proposal. One plan that had been on the table was for the Municipal and National Archives to be relocated to the same building, but in that scenario, they were intended to remain separate entities.

The mayor’s proposal does not outline will happen to the Municipal Archive’s staff—nine full-time and two temporary employees—in the event that the archive is closed.

Urban Design Contest Envisions a Carbon-Neutral, Car-Free Future

The City of Reykjavík has launched an open design competition to “create a dense, mixed, diverse, and carbon-neutral new urban quarter” in Keldur, an underdeveloped area on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. Streetsblog reports that the contest, which will accept submissions until mid-April, is open to anyone—not just professional designers and urban planners—and will be judged anonymously by a team of local officials and international expert advisors.

The finalists from the first round of the competition will receive €50,000 [$53,582; ISK 7.7 million]. The final winner will receive an additional €50,000.

Where is Keldur?

Sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Grafarvogur, Úlfarsárdalur, Grafarholt, Halsar, and Höfðar, the 288-acre parcel that, according to the Keldur Competition Brief, city officials are dividing into Keldur East and Keldur West, is a 30-minute bike ride away from downtown.

via Keldur Competition Brief

The area is currently served by four bus routes “with stops in the vicinity” but once the city unveils its new bus route and the first phase of the Borgarlína Rapid Transit (BRT) service in 2026-27, Keldur will have much more direct public transportation options to and from the city centre. Officials estimate that travel time on the BRT from Keldur and Lækjartorg will be approximately 20 minutes.

‘Against excessive parking’

While the building of a new residential community on the outskirts of a city might naturally imply high car ownership, “officials are are recommending against excessive parking,” explains Streetblog, and have “already promised to devote 100% of the profits from the development and sale of the land towards bringing frequent bus rapid transit service to residents. More broadly, the contest organizers called on entrants to ‘prioritize the eco-friendliest, most compact, and least cumbersome mode of transportation’ in their designs.”

Brad Toderian, one of the international experts serving on the Keldur competition’s judging panel, applauds the City of Reykjavík’s focus on creating “a truly urban place, not just a better suburb,” one that is “not just a little less car dependent, but that’s truly multimodal.” Toderian says that from a North American perspective, the competition is unique not only in that it accepts submissions from anyone, but also because “it’s more ambitious than North America is usually willing to be in these kinds of contexts.”

Cycle city

In addition to linking to the BRT, the Keldur neighborhood is intended to attract cyclists and encourage two-wheeled transit. The contest brief particularly emphasizes the “importance of integrating the region into the city’s ambitious Cycling plan — the city wants 10% of all trips to be taken on two wheels by 2025 — creating reliable pedestrian connections to surrounding areas, and making sure residents can meet their basic needs with a twenty minute walk or less.”

“BRT has a prime role to play,” says Toderian, “but it’s also about walkability and bikeability; it’s about carbon neutrality; it’s about green building design.”

Read the full Streetsblog article, in English, here. The Keldur Contest Brief (also in English), with information about how to submit a design proposal is available here. Queries about phase one of the project will be accepted until March 17, 2023; submissions will be accepted until April 19, 2023.

Banks Raise Interest on Non-Indexed Loans

currency iceland

All three of Iceland’s commercial banks announced that they would be raising interest rates on Friday. RÚV reports that Arion Bank, Íslandsbanki, and Landsbankinn are raising interest rates on non-indexed loans, as well as deposits. The hike comes on the heels of a 0.5% increase on key interest rates last week.

Interest rates on most types of non-indexed loans went up by 0.5% at Arion Bank, Íslandsbanki, and Landsbankinn. New non-indexed mortgages offered by Landsbankinn interest rates had a slightly lower hike; those went up 0.25-0.30%.

Read More: Inflation Rate Continues Climb, Now at 9.9% (January 2023)

Non-indexed interest rates on the banks’ home loans are now in the range of 8.0-8.5%, while interest rates on indexed loans remain unchanged.

Deposit rates were also raised, in most cases around 0.5%.

Looking Back: Mortgage Payments Continue Rising in Iceland (August 2022)

Friday’s interest increases come on the heels of the Central Bank’s decision to raise key interest rates by 0.5% last week, bringing it up to 6.5%. This was the Central Bank’s 11th increase on the key interest rate in a row. The lowest this rate has been is 0.75% in the spring of 2021.

Interest rates have not been higher since 2009.

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Makes Surprise Appearance at NBA Game

Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson surprised fans at an NBA basketball game on Wednesday when he was spotted sitting in the stands with two of his sons and no visible security detail, Fréttablaðið reports. The trio were attending a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.

Idle observers could perhaps be forgiven for wondering what would bring a foreign head of state to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but it was the lack of bodyguards that really got people talking.

Spotted on the Jumbotron, the President stood and gave a friendly wave to his fellow sports fans.

“The President of Iceland is out here watching Celtics vs Bucks and there isn’t any security around him,” sports blogger and Celtics fan Beewol Akandwanaho tweeted. A number of Icelanders were quick to reply, pointing out that although he may be President, Guðni still “waits in line at KFC in Iceland,” and does regular, everyday activities like go to the public swimming pool and grocery store just like anyone else.

Others seem to take more issue with Guðni’s choice of seats. “He’s just chilling in the seats with us norms?” tweeted @PnwToeknee. “He’s not even courtside,” someone else commented.

One of Guðni’s sons sported a jersey for Bucks forward and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, also affectionately known as “the Greek Freak.” Happily for Antetokounmpo’s young fan, given how far he’d travelled to see the game, Milwaukee won, 131 to 125.

Icelanders Flock to Tenerife to Find Sunshine, More Icelanders

It has been a particularly punishing winter in Iceland this year, but many locals have avoided the blizzards and gales entirely, or at least managed to escape it for a short while. Vísir reports that the Spanish island of Tenerife has become a home away from home for a bustling community of Icelandic expats and tourists who are eager to soak up the southerly sun.

The flight from Iceland to Tenerife takes roughly five hours, with round-trip tickets from Keflavík starting at around ISK 68,000 [$475; €443]. These flights are extremely popular with Icelanders throughout the winter months, so much so that the Icelandic electronics chain Elko started advertising, in Icelandic, in the Tenerife airport over Christmas, hoping to encourage some last-minute gift purchases.

“We set [our billboard] up in December,” said Elko marketing manager Arinbjörn Hauksson. “There’s been a lot of discussion about all these Icelanders who have been flocking to Tenerife. So we saw an opportunity on the table and secured a billboard in the best place to get traffic, take advantage of this whole stream of Icelanders who are going out there and then coming back home.”

Elko’s decision to use Icelandic in the advertisement caught locals’ eyes, and certainly got people talking, but it’s not even the first time that Icelanders have advertised in the Tenerife airport. Last April, Hildur Björnsdóttir, an Independence Party representative on the Reykjavík City Council, announced her candidacy for the upcoming council elections in the Tenerife Airport.

Two thousand Icelanders a week

Sigvaldi Kaldalón, known as Svali, the owner of Tenerife Tours, does a bustling business with tourists of all stripes, not just Icelanders. He says the overwhelming number of visitors to the island overwhelms the existing infrastructure, which is a problem back in Iceland, too.

“This island is literally bursting with tourists, not just Icelanders, but tourists in general,” he said. “The main concern of Canarians is not having a sufficiently organized infrastructure, which is something we don’t have in Iceland, either.”

“Last year, 8.3 million tourists came [to Tenerife], and it’s looking to be even more this year,” he said. “I’d say there are close to 2,000 Icelanders every week. Icelanders are mainly here for the weather, just want to relax a bit. It’s a totally different tempo here.”

But whatever infrastructure problems might exist, they don’t seem to be putting Icelanders off in the least. In fact, many Icelanders make the trip annually.

“I’ve been here 14 times, I’m just addicted to it,” Ólöf Ingbergsdóttir said with a laugh. “A person could spend their old age here, I think it’s heading that direction.”

“It’s just so nice, the weather’s great,” said Þorgerður Gísladóttir, whose family was on their 13th visit to the island. “It’s wonderful to come with the kids, everyone can just do what they want and we don’t have to wear coats.”

“It’s fabulous, I’ve got to come here every single year,” agreed Bjarni Sigurjónsson from a sun lounger on the beach.

Just like Sunday lunch at grandma’s

Icelanders may be coming for the distinctly un-Icelandic weather, but they can still have a taste of home while in Tenerife. There are at least four Icelandic restauranteurs on the island. Níels Hafsteinsson is one of them. Níels owns several bars and restaurants and has 45 employees working for him. Icelanders are some of his most frequent customers.

“Yes, like tonight,” he said gesturing around one of his restaurants during a recent interview. “Three out of ten tables are Icelanders. It’s a lot fun.”

Níels’ Icelandic diners were happy to be able to patronize an Icelander’s business while in Tenerife and found it comforting to be able to go somewhere where everything felt like home.

“It’s just like going to Sunday lunch at grandma’s,” said customer Ásgeir Ingólfsson. “The rhubarb jam is missing, maybe, but the food is great.”

Red Cross Names Fifteen-Year-Old ‘First Aid Person of the Year’ 

Fifteen-year-old Arnór Ingi Davíðsson was named the Red Cross’ 2023 ‘First Aid Person of the Year’ in recognition for his quick thinking and cool head last year when his younger brother Bjarki Þór, then ten, was buried in an avalanche in Hveragerði, South Iceland, RÚV reports. The Red Cross gives out the award annually on the 112th day of the year as 112 is the phone number for emergency services in Iceland.

The brothers were playing near a cliff called Hamarinn when a snowbank slid down the mountainside and buried Bjarki Þór. Arnór Ingi acted quickly, locating his brother under the snow, digging it away to uncover his face, and then calling 112 for assistance. He followed emergency service’s instructions until ICE-SAR volunteers arrived at the scene and were able to take over.

Bjarki Þór Davíðsson, age 11; Screenshot via Red Cross Iceland

Arnór Ingi said calling 112 right away is the most important thing in an emergency situation. “I’m really thankful to have had the emergency line with me, it made all the difference. Just to keep him alive and conscious.”

Hjördís Garðarsdóttir, the dispatcher who answered Arnór Ingi’s 112 praised his bravery in the moment, and the care he took to keep his brother as calm as possible. “I think he did incredibly well,” she remarked in a video that was made for the awards ceremony. “Because if you listen to the call, he goes from being extremely scared to extremely reassuring for his brother.”

Even though his brother survived unharmed, Arnór Ingi says the incident still haunts him a year later.

“Sometimes, I can’t sleep and sometimes, I’m watching a movie and there’s an avalanche and something sticks. It’s uncomfortable to watch sometimes, I get flashbacks, but I’m feeling better about it now. It’s not as bad.”

The award was a real encouragement, said Arnór Ingi. “It’s a bit of a boost—crazy to get this recognition, I’m really proud.”