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.

Nursing Home Pedicab Program a Wheely Great Success

Residents of the Dalbær nursing home in the North Iceland village of Dalvík are on the move these days, thanks to the ‘Cycling at Any Age’ program that provides pedicab services and outings for residents. RÚV reports that Dalbær is among the nursing homes currently participating in the program, which is sponsored by the organization Hjólfærni, or ‘Cyclecraft,’ a local offshoot of the movement of the same name started by John Franklin in the UK.

Arnar Símonarson is one of the Bike Buddies who regularly provides pedicab services for elderly residents. “I come up here to Dalbær now and then, when I have the time and opportunity, when I’m at loose ends, and I ride this hot rod here, which has been dubbed the Cool Cab.”

Arnar says that the number of rides provided each time varies, as do the destinations. “People want to go to the bank and the store, we go to Olís [a petrol station] and get ice cream, sometimes we go to the coffee house and the residents have a beer or something else. And then sometimes, we go up to the cemetery.”

Arnar believes that a pedicab such as the one he pilots in Dalvík should be at every nursing home in the country. “It’s wonderful to go out with the residents and see them smiling and getting a little color in their cheeks.” He says that he’s seen a real change amongst the residents since the pedicab became a regular feature of their day-to-day lives. “We can see the happiness and vitality and people return a bit refreshed,” says Arnar.

The Dalbær residents agree. Kristján Loftur Jónsson is one of Arnar’s regular passengers and says that he enjoys getting out for some fresh air and that his favorite places to go are the coffee house or the corner store where he gets an ice cream when the weather’s nice.

Arnar concluded by saying that there’s no reason to fear getting old if you can remain engaged the world. “Growing old doesn’t mean having to disappear from life. Life is out there,” he remarked. “We just have to go out and grab it.”