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.

Results of 2021 Census Reveal Changes in Icelandic Society

Reykjavík old historic centre

Statistics Iceland has recently published new data from the 2021 census, revealing a growing nation and shifting demographics.

Here, we break down some of the major takeaways. The full report can be found here.

As of January 1, 2022, Iceland is home to some 359,122 residents. This represents a 13.8% increase from the last census, taken in 2011. Statistics Iceland reports a discrepancy of some 10,000 inhabitants with the records of Registers Iceland.

This population growth is distributed very unevenly across Iceland. Suðurnes, the region of the Reykjanes peninsula outside of the capital area, has grown by some 28%, with South Iceland following at 19%, and the capital region at 15%. The slowest growers have been Northwest Iceland, at 0.6%, and the Westfjords, at 1.6%.

However, these numbers are not entirely telling the full story. Although no region has experienced a population decline on average, the countryside is still decreasing in residents. In West Iceland, for instance, when the town of Akranes in included, the region saw overall growth. But when Akranes is not accounted for, the region as a whole decreased in population considerably.

On average, Iceland has 3.5 inhabitants per square kilometre.

Iceland, like many other Western nations, is also an ageing nation. In 2011, the proportion of the population 67 and older was 11%, but this figure now stands at 13%.

The gender balance has also shifted slightly since the last census. In 2011, some 49.9% of Icelanders identified as women, but according to the latest figures, that figure now rests at 49%.

Over 75% of Icelanders Believe Immigrants Have a Positive Impact

asylum seeker program Birta

A comprehensive study conducted in early 2018 found that over 75% of Icelanders believe immigrants have had a positive impact on Icelandic society, RÚV reports. The study was conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Akureyri in North Iceland. It covers topics such as immigrants’ status on the labour market, within the school system, and their political and social engagement in Iceland.

Results a Pleasant Surprise

While foreign citizens accounted for 2.6% of Iceland’s population in the year 2000, in 2020 that figure had risen to 13.5%. Titled “Inclusive Society? Adaptation of Immigrants in Iceland,” the University of Akureyri study aimed to reveal how immigrants were adapting to Icelandic society as well as how Icelandic society was adapting in return. Many of the results were a pleasant surprise for Hermína Gunnþórsdóttir and Markus Meckl, professorts at the University of Akureyri and the two editors of the study.

While over 75% of Icelanders reported they agree or strongly agree that immigrants have had a positive impact on society, while just 4% stated they disagree or strongly disagree. Two out of three Icelanders stated they had invited an immigrant to their home. “The attitude seems to be positive and in fact more positive than one would expect in many ways. Maybe this says something about Icelandic society. In any case, this came as a pleasant surprise,” Hermína stated.

Some Schools Lack Comprehensive Policy

While attitudes toward immigrants are generally positive, Icelandic society could do better in some areas when it comes to providing them services, particularly in the educational system. The study found that many municipalities had not formulated clear policies when it came to teaching immigrants and addressing their needs. Hermína pointed out that teachers in smaller communities may lack the training and knowledge needed to adapt their methods. “This is something that municipalities need to take as more of a holistic policy and look at what kind of society we want to build up.”

Nearly 60% of Immigrants Made Under ISK 400,000 Per Month

In 2018, the average monthly salary for full-time workers in Iceland was ISK 721,000. When looking at the distribution of total wages, the most common monthly wage was between ISK 550,000-600,000. According to the University of Akureyri study, nearly 60% of immigrants made ISK 400,000 per month, significantly below national averages. Though Iceland has a gender pay gap that affects all women, women of foreign origin are much worse off in terms of wages than women who are Icelandic, according to Hermína. “This needs to be looked at systematically because we do not want inequality to increase. We want equality and equal rights for everyone here. Not just those who were born and raised here.”

Language Education is Key to Participation

Unsurprisingly, the study found immigrants who had learned Icelandic were more active in society and politics. “For example they are more likely to vote and actually participate more in society. So it’s very important that we offer people a good education in Icelandic.” The study found, however, that immigrants were not satisfied with the Icelandic language courses available to them.

According to Hermína, an important step in achieving further equality is to increase the number of immigrants working within the school system as well as in positions of responsibility.

Immigrant Proportion Grows Within Icelandic Labour Market

Immigrants were on average 19.2% of the total number of employed in Iceland in the first quarter of 2019, according to newly-released data from Statistics Iceland. The number of employed immigrants between 16 and 74 years of age was 36,844, of 192,232 total individuals employed. Though immigrants accounted for nearly one fifth of the labour market in the first quarter of 2019, they account for only 12.7% of the population.

Since the first quarter of 2013, the proportion of immigrants among those employed has grown in all regions of the country. The ratio was highest in the Southwest and the Westfjords in the first quarter of this year, while it was lowest in the Northwest.

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The data is part of a new publication of register based on information on those employed in the Icelandic labour market. Statistics Iceland categorises employees not born in Iceland and whose parents and grandparents are not born in Iceland as immigrants. Others are considered to have an Icelandic background.

In Focus: Dropping Fertility

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Since the 1960s, Iceland’s fertility rate has been steadily dropping. Fertility rates in 2017 were the lowest recorded since record-taking began in 1853. It should be mentioned that despite these historically low numbers, there is a constant growth in population, mainly due to immigration. Though the population may not be declining, it’s worth taking a […]

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Iceland’s Population to Increase by 88,000 in 50 Years

Austurvöllur Square Christmas Tree Lighting, Reykjavík.

Iceland’s population is projected to increase to 436,000 by 2067, marking an increase of 88,000 people in 50 years. This projection was published in a recent report by Statistics Iceland.

Life expectancy for Icelandic women is currently 83.9 years and is expected to extend to 88.7 years in 2067. Icelandic men currently have a life expectancy of 79.8 years, expected to go up to 84.4 years. The number of annual births is also expected to continue to outstrip the number of deaths each year.

Immigration rates – that is, people of foreign origin moving to Iceland – are expected to exceed emigration rates, i.e. Icelanders moving to other countries. It is also expected, however, that there will be more Icelanders moving out of Iceland in 2067 than returning to the country after living abroad.

The age demographics of the country is expected to shift quite dramatically: “By 2039, 20% of the population will be older than 65 years and by 2057, the proportion will be over 25%.” After 2046, however, people 65 years and older will outnumber people 20 years and younger.

Even so, Iceland will remain a relatively young country when compared to other European nations. In January 2017, the proportion of people aged 20 and under in Europe was 28%. In Iceland, however, the population of young people won’t drop to a similar percentage – 27%, specifically – until 2050. Similarly, the percentage of the European population aged 65 and older was at 19% in January 2017. Iceland’s senior population will not hit 19% until 2035.

See the report (in English) and associated graphics here.