Iceland’s Population to Reach 400,000 This Year

Reykjavík old historic centre

In the first six months of 2024, Iceland’s population should pass 400,000, Morgunblaðið reports. As it stands, the population is only around 1,000 away from that mark.

The growth in Iceland’s population has been much more rapid than expected. Statistics Iceland projected in 2008 that the population would only surpass 400,000 people in the year 2050. “This projection was very good, even if we’re reaching this goal 26 years earlier than expected,” Professor Stefán Hrafn Jónsson, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Iceland, told Morgunblaðið. “The projection showed a 0.6 percent yearly growth, but it turned out different. The shifts in Icelandic society were simply larger than expected in the projection.”

Population ageing faster

According to new projections, the population could grow by another 200,000 people in the next 40 years or so. “The latest projection from Statistics Iceland expects us to reach a population of 600,000 in the year 2067 or so,” Stefán said. “There is much uncertainty in such projections like in any projections about the future. That uncertainty grows the further we go into the future.”

Population projections are based on birth rates, mortality rates and migration. Historical developments, such as wars and pandemics, can influence these developments. “Even if births and deaths are biological processes, and therefore both the subject of health sciences, these events and everything that happens in between them are affected by social factors,” Stefán said. He added that Iceland will see an increasingly ageing population, which will put pressure on the healthcare system. The number of inhabitants over the age of 80 could triple in the next 50 years. “But the effects will also be seen in the pension system, the economy, labour market, governance, political ideologies, inequality, crime, customs, traditions, legislation, social services, housing, welfare, domestic and foreign trade, governance of businesses and institutions, markets, disability issues, cultural policy, language, religion, and morality, just to mention a few of the subjects of the humanities and social sciences,” Stefán added. “It could be a real cause for concern in the next decades whether we respond correctly to the ageing of our population.”

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.