The Icelandic Population: A Historical and Demographic Overview

Population of Iceland

The Icelandic population stood just shy of 400,000 at the beginning of 2024, with approximately 80% of the populace being Icelandic and the remaining 20% having foreign backgrounds.

 

Historical Context

Official population statistics in Iceland trace back to 1703 when the population numbered 50,358. However, between 1870 and 1914, Iceland experienced a significant population decline, losing about 20% of its inhabitants, with an estimated 15,000 people emigrating to North America.

For much of its history, Iceland saw minimal immigration, with immigrants primarily arriving from Scandinavian countries. By the mid-1990s, a staggering 95% of the population had Icelandic parental origins. 

However, with Iceland’s accession to the European Economic Area (EEA) and entry into the Schengen Agreement, immigration to Iceland surged.

 

Immigration Trends in Iceland

Recent immigration trends have brought increased diversity to Iceland’s racial composition. Immigrants from various European countries, notably Poland and Lithuania, have contributed to the nation’s multicultural makeup. 

As of February 2024, approximately 20% of Iceland’s population consists of immigrants or individuals with foreign backgrounds, with Poles constituting the largest immigrant group at 6%.

 

Iceland’s population: male vs. female

As of early 2024, slightly over 50% of the population is male, with females making up 48%. Non-binary individuals or those identifying with other genders constitute 0.04% of the population. These statistics debunk the common belief of a surplus of women in Iceland, and contrary to popular belief, there is no governmental compensation provided when foreigners marry an Icelandic woman.

 

Religion in Iceland

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland has historically been the dominant religion in Iceland since its reformation in 1550. However, an increasing number of Icelanders identify as non-religious or adhere to alternative spiritual beliefs. While Lutheranism remains the state church, religious life in Iceland has become more diverse.

Since the late 20th century Iceland has seen a decline in the main forms of Christianity and the rise of unaffiliated people. The increase of people practicing Ásatrú (or Heathenry) is also notable as a homage to the old Germanic folk religion, based on the belief in hidden forces in the land and the desire that Icelanders can have their own faith. 

 

Are Icelanders Vikings?

Even though it is believed that Irish monks were the first settlers in Iceland. Even though Icelanders can be considered direct descendants from the Vikings, they also have Celtic DNA originating from Irish and Scottish people that were brought over to Iceland as slaves by the Vikings. 

 

Here you can find the answers to more common questions about Iceland.

 

Common Questions About Iceland

The Icelandic flag

Where is Iceland?

Iceland is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It sits directly on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and comprises two major tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American. Coupled with the volcanic hotspot underneath the island, this results in frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

How big is Iceland, and how many people live there? 

In terms of area, Iceland is about 103,000 square kilometres [39,769 square miles]. In population numbers, Iceland is the size of an average European city, with around 400.000 inhabitants. Most of those live in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, or the surrounding area. 

How Do I Get to Iceland?

There are two ways to travel to Iceland. You can fly with one of the numerous airlines that fly there or you can sail with M/S Norröna, a ferry that offers weekly fares from Denmark to the east of Iceland. Additionally, numerous cruise ships offer trips to and around the island. 

Is Iceland Expensive?

For most people, Iceland will be more expensive than their home country. The cost of living is high, and there are some things in particular, such as alcohol, eating out, and planned tours, that are very expensive. The good news is that there are also many free attractions to enjoy! If you‘re here on a budget, skip the planned tours and just head out on your own. Couple that with an Airbnb, where you can cook your own meals, and you‘ll save yourself considerable amounts.  

Do people tip in Iceland? 

It‘s not the custom in Iceland to tip. Some restaurants and coffee shops have jars for tipping, but as customer service wages in Iceland are good, this is not something you should feel obligated to do.

Is Iceland cold? 

Judging by the name, one might think Iceland is extremely cold and covered in snow all year round. This is not the case at all! Over the year, temperatures usually fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20 °C [68 °F], with the coldest month being January and the warmest July. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March. Wind and precipitation are less common during summer, and if you‘re lucky, you might even catch some excellent sunny, warm weather days.

Is Iceland safe? 

Yes, it is. In fact, for 14 years in a row, Iceland has been ranked number one on the Global Peace Index

Are Icelanders LGBTQ+ Friendly?

Iceland is considered among the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries to visit, and the Icelandic people are usually very open and accepting towards LGBTQ+ communities. Reykjavík Pride, a week-long annual celebration held in August, attracts tens of thousands of people. 

What is the best time of year to visit Iceland?

Well, it depends on your preferences. Do you crave bright and magical summer nights or the cosy darkness of winter? Would you like a chance to encounter a blizzard and see the northern lights, or do you wish to experience the extraordinary Highland, spot some whales and visit remote fjords? In Iceland, each season has something unique to offer!

 

How many people are born in Iceland and how many die on average per year? What can you tell me about Iceland’s population growth?

school children

Every year, around 4,000-5,000 people are born, and between 1,800-2,300 people die in Iceland. As recorded by Statistics Iceland:

  • in 2020, there were 4,512 births and 2,301 deaths;
  • in 2010, there were 4,907 births and 2,020 deaths;
  • in 2000, there were 4,315 births and 1,828 deaths.

In the third quarter of 2021, more babies were born in Iceland than in any other quarter over the past ten years: 1,310 babies were born while 580 people died. The population increased by 3,260 from the previous quarter to a total of 374,830. Inhabitants in the Reykjavík capital region numbered 240,050 and 134,780 lived in other parts of the country.

It is expected that in 2021, over of 5,000 babies will be born, which would be the most babies ever to be born in one year in Iceland. The current record is from 2010.

Net migration to Iceland during the third quarter was 2,530 people: 340 for Icelandic citizens and 2,190 for foreign citizens. Icelanders who immigrated during this period came mostly from Denmark, Norway, or Sweden (600 out of 900), while most immigrants of foreign nationality came from Poland (720 out of 3,200). Romania came second with 230 immigrants. 

With 190 Icelandic citizens moving to Sweden, this was the most popular emigration destination for Icelanders. Of the 560 Icelandic citizens who emigrated, 330 went to Denmark, Norway, or Sweden. Most foreign citizens who emigrated from Iceland during this period went to Poland (350 out of 1,000). 

There were 54,140 foreign citizens living in Iceland by the end of the third quarter of 2021, which is 14.4% of the total population.