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.

Opioid Abuse Among Young People Growing More Common

Opioid abuse among individuals 25 years old and younger has grown more common, according to Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (the National Centre of Addiction Medicine). Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference at the Hilton Nordica hotel yesterday, Mbl.is reports.

A “New Opioid Crisis”

Speaking to Iceland Review last month, Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (National Centre of Addiction Medicine) stated that talk of a “new opioid crisis” in Iceland was not an exaggeration.

Referring to the data, Valgerður noted that between 2010 and 2022, the percentage of patients being treated for opioid addiction at the Vogur detox centre and rehabilitation hospital rose by approximately 200% (from 10.3% to ca. 30% of the clinic’s patients). Furthermore, these patients are twice as likely to relapse than others, and thirty-five of those who have sought treatment over the past five years have died.

Read More: In Harm’s Way: Harm Reduction in the Age of Opioids

Yesterday, Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference held by SÁÁ and FÁR (the Association of Alcohol and Drug Advisors) at the Hilton Nordica hotel in Reykjavík between November 2 and 3. According to her lecture, prescription opioid abuse – including opioids like Contalgin, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl – among individuals 25 and younger has grown more common.

Although opioid abuse is on the rise, alcohol is still the most commonly abused intoxicant in Iceland. Speaking to Mbl.is, Valgerður noted that the problems were “of a different nature” when individuals are abusing potent prescription drugs.

Valgerður also noted that the percentage of working individuals who are admitted to the Vogur rehabilitation centre has declined to 30%. Given this, it was important that the Icelandic Vocational Rehabilitation Fund (VIRK) no longer mandates a 3-6 month sober period as a condition for entering into vocational rehabilitation.

The aforementioned conference was the first to be sponsored jointly by SÁÁ and FÁR. Valgerður told Mbl.is that many parties, including VIRK, FÁR, SÁÁ, and municipal authorities, are determined to work together to combat substance abuse in Iceland.

Sixteen-Year-Old Admitted to Prestigious San Francisco Ballet School

Sixteen-year-old ballet dancer Logi Guðmundsson has been admitted to the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School in the US this fall. RÚV reports that Logi has been offered a full scholarship to attend the school.

Logi was inspired to start dancing ballet after seeing a production of Billy Elliott at the Reykjavík City Theatre when he was eight years old. He’s dedicated himself to his craft ever since, practicing six days a week, doing intense stretches every night, and focusing, in particular, on agility. “It’s really demanding. You’re always practicing, always [trying to] do better than last time,” he told an interviewer before demonstrating a front split. (He uses a block under his front ankle, he said, to help him be able to stretch even more.) Intense as his practice is, however, Logi always saves Sundays to spend time with friends and enjoy non-dance-related activities.

Screenshot, RÚV

Logi was offered a place at the school after Helgi Tómasson, the artistic director and principal choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, invited him to participate in a course there this summer.

“The San Francisco Ballet School is one of the best in the world,” said Guðmundur Helgason, principal of the Icelandic Ballet Academy. “It’s really hard to get into a school like that. I’m incredibly proud of [Logi] and look forward to see what comes of this.”

Students Keep Busy, Give Back at Summer Work School

The School of Work was established with the mission of providing young people with something to do over the summer and, more broadly, to prepare them for the labour market. The first School of Work was opened in Reykjavík in 1951, but since then, many towns around the country have followed suit with their own schools. This week, RÚV spoke to spoke to students at Árbæjarskóli who are taking part in the popular program.

Outdoor work, positive messages

The School of Work is open to students in 8th – 10th grade. Per the City of Reykjavík website, its main function “is to provide students…with constructive summer jobs, as well as education in a safe working environment.” All work is paid and takes place outdoors, and most jobs focus on small public service projects—gardening and maintenance. Hours depend on the student’s age; 8th grades work 3.5 hours a day, either in the morning or afternoon, while 9th and 10th graders work full, seven-hour shifts. Generally, participants are grouped with students from their school, although not necessarily their close friends, as organizers “believe it is healthy for everyone to meet new people and work with someone other than their closest friends.”

In addition to their work duties, students participate in discussions and team-building games lead by peer educators from Hitt Húsið’s Peer Education Center. These activities “seek, among other things, to enhance the teenagers’ self-image.”

Helps students get used to the responsibility of having a job

Students Ólöf and Jón weeded, designed, and replanted a flower bed at the Árbær Open Air Museum. This is the bed before. (Photo via Vinnuskóli Reykjavíkur, FB)

“I applied mainly to earn money to go abroad and have something to spend, and also just to have something to do over the summer,” said Hera Arnadóttir. Hera said the Work School is pretty fun, although she doesn’t like the spiders and bugs.

Students Ólöf and Jón weeded, designed, and replanted a flower bed at the Árbær Open Air Museum. This is the bed after. (Photo via Vinnuskóli Reykjavíkur, FB)

Oddur Sverrisson was busy pulling up chickweed when approached for an interview. He said the Work School is important for young people because it provides them with a routine, teaches them how to manage the money they earn, and get used to the responsibility of having a job.

Young, Unskilled Workers Need Targeted Educational Support

A new study shows that a third of Icelandic jobs will change significantly in coming years as unskilled workers currently in the labour force go back to school to further their educations, RÚV reports.

According to Guðbjörg Vilhjálmsdóttir, professor of academic and vocational guidance counselling at the University of Iceland, the biggest professional changes will be seen among those who only have completed grunnskóli, or mandatory basic education up to the age of 16. She estimates that 45% of the jobs completed by this demographic will either undergo significant changes or disappear entirely.

In February, Guðbjörg conducted a study of 154 young people aged 18-29 who had been working during the previous six months. These individuals had no more than an upper secondary education and did not attend junior college or university. They were only able to secure jobs in unskilled labour professions; most of them work long hours in the service industry.

These young people reported that they dropped out of school for a number of reasons that ranged from a lack of interest in pursuing higher education to poverty. These reasons are in line with other studies that have been previously conducted in this field.

Fewer young women believe they are doing ‘decent work’

According to Guðbjörg’s findings, young men seem to secure more complex work than young women—jobs related to machinery and maintenance, as well as in the agricultural sector. She says this may account for the boost in young women’s applications to university; in order to get a skilled job, they must have a higher education.

Guðbjörg also asked her respondents whether they thought they were doing “decent work.” This is a coinage of the International Labour Organization, which explains that “decent work… involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

It came as a surprise, Guðbjörg says, that the young women she spoke to were less likely to think themselves doing decent work than young men.

Targeted support needed to meet unskilled young people’s educational needs

This demographic is worse situated than other Icelanders, Guðbjörg says, because by and large, they are not fully aware of their situation and have trouble determining what to do in their work life in order to improve their future prospects. They tend to have difficulty planning out their next step and lack support, as they often come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. When asked what kind of work they would like to do if there weren’t any roadblocks in their path, most of Guðbjörg’s respondents said they would go into specialist and technical positions.

Younger participants in the study tended to want to continue their studies more than participants on the older end of the spectrum. It also tends to be easier for these younger individuals to return to school so soon after leaving upper secondary school.

Although study participants were shown to think it less and less likely that they would go back to school the older they got, 71% of respondents intended to return to school with the belief that they would finish their degrees. Guðbjörg says that this group of unskilled workers needs particular support to acquire an education that is based around their needs.

Burnout on the Rise Among Young People

Young people, and more particularly, young women, are experiencing higher levels of burnout at work, RÚV reports. According to Linda Bára Lýðsdóttir, a psychologist at the Virk Vocational Rehabilitation Fund, anxiety and depression are on the rise, even as employment conditions are largely positive for a good portion of the nation. This increase used to be particularly prevalent among workers over the age of 40, but recent studies show that it is now becoming more common among younger people.

“This is a problem for everyone, but there’s increasing incidence among young people, and especially young women,” explains Linda. “It’s a cause for concern. I have a recent study from Britain – tens of thousands of people took part in their study – and in it, they point to the incidence of depression and anxiety disorders among young women rising a great deal nowadays, while it’s fairly stable among men.” She says that this is a problem in Iceland as well. “I don’t think we’re any exception there. This happens in most welfare states today.”

Professional environments that could be considered “women’s workplaces” are also particularly vulnerable to burnout, Linda continues. “We’re seeing burnout in a large proportion of women’s workplaces,” she says, “in the fields of education and health care and it’s more or less women who work there.”

It’s been speculated that this burnout could be connected to Iceland’s financial collapse ten years ago, says Linda, as the crash put increased pressure on people to work harder and overcome their economic straits. At the time, a great deal of emphasis was placed on keeping a close eye on children and it was said that attention would need to be paid to these young people’s wellbeing seven to ten years in the future, which is to say: now.

There’s been a great deal of discussion of late in regards to shortening Icelanders’ work hours, but Linda says that this is not necessarily the best solution. The issue, she says, is people’s workload, and nothing will be solved if workers are simply responsible for the same amount of work in a shorter time frame.

Film Course Aims to Give Young People a ‘Space Where They Can Be Free’

A film course taught by Lee Lynch, an American filmmaker living in Iceland, aims to both introduce young people to a broad range of experimental film as well as to give them the opportunity to create their own, mbl.is. Called “Teenage Wasteland of the Arts” (a title inspired by the song “Baba O’Reily” by the British badn The Who, the course which is now being offered for the sixth time at Hitt Húsið.

Lee, who holds a master’s from the University of Southern California and has shown his own films at festivals such as Sundance, Rotterdam, and Tribeca, says the class introduces students to “video art and sound art…and we look at New Wave filmmaking, theater, experimental animation, and sound collages.” In addition, students are given the opportunity to make their own video art and learn, among other things, how to produce and edit their own YouTube videos and use a variety of analog effects.

Lee says that film played an important and empowering role in his young life and he hopes it will do the same for his students. “…I was fourteen years old when I started making movies. Sometimes, I hated school and at that time, my parents were going through a difficult divorce. Filmmaking got me through that difficult time but I was the only teenager who was involved in stuff like that in the little town I grew up in. I hope to be able to offer young filmmakers and video artists a space where they can be free from everything else that is going on in their lives and that they have no control over. Space where they can express themselves among similarly minded people and help Iceland’s fantastic film scene grow and flourish.”

Learn more about the course – which is offered for students aged 16 – 25 and taught in English – on its Facebook page, here.

Nearly a Third of Young Women in Iceland Have Considered Suicide

Nearly a third of Icelandic girls and a fourth of Icelandic boys aged 16 to 20 have considered suicide, RÚVreports. This finding was among those reported in a long-term study conducted on behalf of the Directorate of Health: “Suicidal Thoughts and Suicide Attempts Among Icelandic Young People: Findings of Upper Secondary Surveys, 2000-2016.”

The percentage of students who have considered suicide has not changed much since the surveys were initiated in 2000. That first year, 27% of girls aged 16-20 and 23% of boys of the same age reported having had suicidal thoughts. In 2016, the same percentage of boys reported affirmatively to this question (23%), as did a slightly higher percentage of girls, or 33%.

In terms of actual suicide attempts, the percentage remained fairly consistent for boys over the sixteen years of surveys—5% in 2000, increasing to 7% in 2016. Among young women, however, there’s been more volatility in this area. In 2000, 9% of women aged 16-20 reported that they’d attempted suicide, which increased to 11% in 2005. Five years later, in 2010, the percentage dropped to 7%, before going up again to 12% in 2016.

Around half of the young women and a third of the young men who participated in the surveys reported that someone close to them had told them about having attempted suicide. These percentages were consistent over the duration of the surveys.

The results of this study showed that upper secondary school students who have known someone who exhibits suicidal behavior are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and show suicidal behavior themselves. Students who had been told by a peer that the person had had suicidal thoughts were, in fact, twice as likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide themselves. Young people who had a close friend attempt suicide were two times as likely to seriously consider suicide and three times as likely to make an attempt on their own lives.

The most serious risk factors for attempting suicide were found to be as follows: having a close friend who had attempted suicide, depression, anger, being a victim of sexual violence, and cannabis use. Students who did not have much support from friends and/or family, or who had for some reason become cut off from their friends were also shown to be more likely to have suicidal thoughts or to attempt to kill themselves.

See the full results of the survey (in Icelandic) here.