The Icelandic Population: A Historical and Demographic Overview Skip to content

The Icelandic Population: A Historical and Demographic Overview

By Telma

Population of Iceland
Photo: Photo: Golli. Icelandic population at Arnarhóll..

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.


Related Posts