Number of Icelandic Residents Nearing 400,000

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

The number of Icelandic residents increased by 2,570 in the fourth quarter of last year, Vísir reports. The increase means that a total of 387,800 people were living in Iceland at the end of 2022.

Most Icelanders emigrated to Denmark

According to a press release from Statistics Iceland, a total of 387,800 people were living in Iceland at the end of the fourth quarter of 2022 (an increase of 2,570): “199,840 men, 187,840 women, and 130 were transgender/other.” Of these 387,800 people, 247,590 people were residing in the capital area, compared to 140,210 in the rest of the country.

The press release also notes that during the fourth quarter of 2022, “1,040 children were born and 650 people died. At the same time, 2,110 more people immigrated to the country than emigrated; Icelandic citizens who emigrated from the country exceeded the number of citizens who returned to the country by 60. Meanwhile, foreign citizens who immigrated to Iceland were 2,170 more numerous than those who emigrated from the country. More men than women emigrated from the country,” the announcement states.

Most of the Icelandic citizens who emigrated left for Denmark, or 110 people during the quarter in question. “230 Icelandic citizens moved to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden out of a total of 430. Of the 1,150 foreign nationals who left the country, most, or 340 people, went to Poland.”

Similarly, most of the Icelandic citizens who returned to Iceland arrived from Denmark, or 140. Forty people arrived from Norway and 70 from Sweden. Most of the foreign nationals who immigrated to Iceland arrived from Poland, or 720 out of a total of 3,320 foreign immigrants. The second most numerous group of foreign nationals immigrating to Iceland originated from Ukraine, or 580. Foreign citizens were 65,090 or 16.8% of the total population.

A population projection from Statistics Iceland predicts that Iceland’s population will be 461,000 in 2069.

Western promises

While most people today are very much aware of Europe’s exploration and colony building in what was optimistically called the New World, you would be forgiven for not knowing that Icelanders founded a self-governing colony in the Americas as well. New Iceland was established on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, beginning with the settlement of Gimli, named after “the most beautiful place on Earth” in Norse mythology. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the entire population of Iceland emigrated to North America over the four decades that followed.

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Lilja Guest of Honour at Icelandic Festival in US

Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir in Mountain, North Dakota.

Iceland’s Minister of Education, Science, and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir was the guest of honour at Mountain, North Dakota’s annual Deuce of August celebrations this year. The festival of Icelandic culture celebrated its 120th anniversary this year. The Deuce of August celebrations are organised by descendants of Icelanders who immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Maintaining connections

As many as 15,000-20,000 Icelanders immigrated to North America between 1875 and 1914 due to difficult living conditions in their country of origin. It’s tradition for a representative of the Icelandic government to attend the Deuce of August celebrations in Mountain, as well as those that take place to the north in Canada, in Gimli, Manitoba.

On her visit to Mountain, Lilja took part in the festival parade and held a speech where she emphasised the importance of maintaining connections between North Americans with Icelandic roots and their country of origin. As an example, the Minister mentioned the Snorri Program, which brings young people of Icelandic origin to Iceland to learn about their background. Over 500 youth have participated in the program, including some from Mountain.

Lilja also visited Vikur Lutheran Church during her time in Mountain. Built in 1884, it is the first Icelandic church to be erected in the United States. In 2013, the church and associated cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

American Icelandic speakers

“The legacy of West Icelanders’ descendants upheld here in North Dakota is truly important,” Lilja asserted. “People here make a great effort to cultivate their relationship with Iceland and keep our history and culture alive. Here in the area there are still descendants of Icelanders who speak Icelandic without having lived in Iceland. Despite the fact that more than 100 years have passed since the migration of [West Icelanders] ended, people are still very much aware of their origin and are proud of it.”

A press release from the Government of Iceland stated that many Icelandic nationals were also present at the celebrations, and groups from Iceland regularly visit Icelandic settlements in the US and Canada.