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.

New Hospital Won’t Meet Bed-Demand, Report Finds

landspítali hospital

A new government report finds that the healthcare system will be significantly short of hospital beds by 2040, even with the new hospital opening on Hringbraut in Reykjavík. The Director of the new hospital hopes that the war in Ukraine won’t delay construction.

Demographic changes driving demand

On March 18, the Ministry of Health released a report on the future development of the National University Hospital of Iceland (Landspítali). The report, which was based on data from 2019, was predicated on analytical work done by the management consulting company McKinsey & Company.

Among the report’s main findings was that the need for hospital beds in Iceland is expected to rise by 80% by 2040. This need is driven mainly by demographic changes, with the average age in the country expected to increase by 9% and the total population expected to increase by 18% over the next 18 years.

Given these changes, the healthcare system would have only half of the needed hospital beds by 2040 if no significant actions were taken – even with the opening of the new hospital on Hringbraut (expected to open in 2026).

According to the report, the healthcare system can tackle the shortage by shifting long-term and primary care from Landspítali to “a more (sic) adequate healthcare setting.” The health authorities would need to create the equivalent of ca. 240 bed capacity in home-based, elderly, and rehabilitation-care facilities.

“We can’t lose any time”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Runólfur Pálsson, Director of the National University Hospital of Iceland, responded to the report by saying that “time was of the essence.”

“Everybody is familiar with the current facilities as far as hospital beds are concerned,” Páll observed. “Personnel shortage is also a growing concern. We should have acted sooner; the preparation time required for the construction of the new hospital was way too long.”

As noted on RÚV yesterday, the current conditions at Landspítali er still difficult, even with a decline in COVID-19 cases. There is a significant shortage of hospital beds. Every day, almost 30 people must wait in the emergency ward to be admitted into the hospital.

Furthermore, illnesses among staff, whether resulting from COVID-19 or influenza, have also made operations difficult. Many employees of the hospital have also gone on sick leave owing to work-related stress.

Construction, for the most part, “on schedule”

In an interview on Friday, Gunnar Svavarsson, Director of the New University Hospital on Hringbraut, stated that the construction of the new hospital was, for the most part, on schedule. The Russian invasion of Ukraine may cause a delay, however, as the contractors can no longer import steel from Russia.

“We hope there won’t be any delays,” Gunnar said. “As it stands, it’s looking pretty good. Some areas are behind schedule and others that are ahead of schedule.”