Iceland Population - History

Iceland Population - History

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The people of Iceland are homogenous descendants of Norse and Celtics. They are almost all Lutherans.
279,384 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 23% (male 33,189; female 31,155)
15-64 years: 65.1% (male 91,704; female 90,199)
65 years and over: 11.9% (male 14,828; female 18,309) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.52% (2002 est.)
Birth rate:
14.37 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate:
6.93 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate:
-2.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.08 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
3.53 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 79.66 years
female: 82.07 years (2002 est.)
male: 77.42 years
Total fertility rate:
1.99 children born/woman (2002 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
0.14% (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
200 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
less than 100 (1999 est.)
noun: Icelander(s)
adjective: Icelandic
Ethnic groups:
homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%
Evangelical Lutheran 87.1%, other Protestant 4.1%, Roman Catholic 1.7%, other 7.1% (2002)
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.9% (1997 est.)
male: NA%
female: NA%

History of Iceland

The recorded history of Iceland began with the settlement by Viking explorers and the people they enslaved from the east, particularly Norway and the British Isles, in the late ninth century. Iceland was still uninhabited long after the rest of Western Europe had been settled. Recorded settlement has conventionally been dated back to 874, although archaeological evidence indicates Gaelic monks from Ireland, known as papar according to sagas, had settled Iceland before that date.

The land was settled quickly, mainly by Norwegians who may have been fleeing conflict or seeking new land to farm. By 930, the chieftains had established a form of governance, the Althing, making it one of the world's oldest parliaments. Towards the end of the tenth century, Christianity came to Iceland through the influence of the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason. During this time, Iceland remained independent, a period known as the Old Commonwealth, and Icelandic historians began to document the nation's history in books referred to as sagas of Icelanders. In the early thirteenth century, the internal conflict known as the age of the Sturlungs weakened Iceland, which eventually became subjugated to Norway through the Old Covenant (1262–1264), effectively ending the Commonwealth. Norway, in turn, was united with Sweden (1319) and then Denmark (1376). Eventually all of the Nordic states were united in one alliance, the Kalmar Union (1397–1523), but on its dissolution, Iceland fell under Danish rule. The subsequent strict Danish–Icelandic Trade Monopoly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was detrimental to the economy. Iceland's resultant poverty was aggravated by severe natural disasters like the Móðuharðindin or "Mist Hardships". During this time, the population declined.

Iceland remained part of Denmark, but in keeping with the rise of nationalism around Europe in the nineteenth century, an independence movement emerged. The Althing, which had been suspended in 1799, was restored in 1844, and Iceland gained sovereignty after World War I, becoming the Kingdom of Iceland on 1 December 1918. However, Iceland shared the Danish Monarchy until World War II. Although Iceland was neutral in the Second World War, the United Kingdom invaded and peacefully occupied it in 1940 to forestall a Nazi occupation, after Denmark was overrun by the German Wehrmacht. [1] Due to the island's strategic position in the North Atlantic, the Allies occupied the island until the end of the war, with the United States taking over occupation duties from the British in 1941. In 1944, Iceland severed its remaining ties with Denmark (then still under Nazi occupation) and declared itself a republic. Following the Second World War, Iceland was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and joined the United Nations one year after its establishment. Its economy grew rapidly largely through fishing, although this was marred by disputes with other nations.

Following rapid financial growth, the 2008–11 Icelandic financial crisis occurred. Iceland continues to remain outside the European Union.

Iceland is very remote, therefore has been spared the ravages of European wars but has been affected by other external events, such as the Black Death and the Protestant Reformation imposed by Denmark. Iceland's history has also been marked by a number of natural disasters.

Iceland is a relatively young island in the geological sense, being formed about 20 million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but it is still growing from fresh volcanic eruptions. The oldest stone specimens found in Iceland date back to ca. 16 million years ago.

Commonwealth (c. 930–1262)

At the time of Iceland’s settlement, Norse people worshipped gods whom they called æsir (singular áss), and this religion left behind an extensive mythology in Icelandic literature. Thor seems to have been the most popular of the pagan gods in Iceland, although Odin is thought to have been the highest in rank. It appears that heathen worship was organized around a distinct class of chieftains called godar (singular godi), of which there were about 40. In the absence of royal power in Iceland, the godar were to form the ruling class in the country.

By the end of the settlement period, a general Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been established and was held at midsummer on a site that came to be called Thingvellir. This assembly consisted of a law council (lögrétta), in which the godar made and amended the laws, and a system of courts of justice, in which householders, nominated by the godar, acted on the panels of judges. At the local level, three godar usually held a joint assembly in late spring at which a local court operated, again with judges nominated by the godar. All farmers were legally obliged to belong to a chieftaincy (godord) but theoretically were free to change their allegiance from one godi to another the godar were allotted a corresponding right to expel a follower. Some scholars have seen in this arrangement a resemblance to the franchise in modern societies. On the other hand, there was no central authority to ensure that the farmers would be able to exercise their right in a democratic way. No one was vested with executive power over the country as a whole. In any case, no trace of democratic practice reached farther down the social scale than to the heads of farming households women and workers (free or enslaved) had no role in the political system.

Some Icelanders Are Accidentally Dating a Relative and Now There’s an App for That

In Iceland, everybody is related. Okay, technically everybody everywhere is related, but in Iceland people are way more related than they are in, say, the United States. The population of Iceland today is about 320,000, and, accord to the genealogy website, the whole population of native Icelanders derives from a single family tree. As the Icelandic news site News of Iceland says, that’s enough people that not everyone knows each other, but few enough to mean that two Icelanders who are dating might actually be cousins.

This is a common enough problem for Icelanders that there is now an app to help people avoid dating their close relatives. The app uses that same genealogy website to look you, and your potential date, up, and confirm that you’re not actually related. News of Iceland:

Three engineers made an app for the ‘Íslendingabók‘ database. People can now easily, and on the go, look up how they are related to other Icelanders. And a precious feature, using the bump technology, allows people that meet to just bump their phones together, to instantly see if they are too related to take things any further. The engineers’ slogan for this feature was: “Bump the app before you bump in bed”.

You might be thinking that there is no way that Icelanders really have this problem. But they do. In fact, in 2007, the Iceland Review Online ran a story about this very conundrum. The journalist writes that she made sure that her and her boyfriend were not related. But her brother begged to differ:

The next day there was an email from him waiting in my inbox. I opened it and discovered a list of names and dates of birth – a family tree. I recognized some of the names and soon realized that this was a list of my ancestors and my boyfriend’s ancestors, all the way back to the 18th century.

Apparently we share a great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, whose name was Gudrún Einarsdóttir. She was born in 1742 and died in 1784. I derive from her son, Einar (born 1762), and my boyfriend from her daughter, Hallfrídur (born 1770).

Most Icelanders have heard a story of somebody, who knew somebody, who found out a bit late in the game that the subject of their romance is actually an estranged cousin.

Elin Edda says it happened to her friend. “She really liked this guy and then found out they had the same great-grandparents,” she says. “It really freaked her out and she broke it off. It was just too weird.”

If Edda had had this app, however, she could have avoided that whole problem. So while in many countries people are using their iPhones to maximize their dates, in Iceland, more isn’t always better, because the more you date, the more likely you are to date your cousin.

About Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.



Iceland, an island about the size of Kentucky, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and just touches the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most volcanic regions in the world. More than 13% is covered by snowfields and glaciers, and most of the people live in the 7% of the island that is made up of fertile coastland. The Gulf Stream keeps Iceland's climate milder than one would expect from an island near the Arctic Circle.


The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse people in the late 9th century. A constitution drawn up c. 930 created a form of democracy and provided for an Althing, the world's oldest practicing legislative assembly. The island's early history was preserved in the Icelandic sagas of the 13th century.

In 1262?1264, Iceland came under Norwegian rule and passed to ultimate Danish control through the unification of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (the Kalmar Union) in 1397.

In 1874, Icelanders obtained their own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union, as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally under the Danish monarchy.

During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II, British, then American, troops occupied Iceland and used it for a strategic air base. While officially neutral, Iceland cooperated with the Allies throughout the conflict. On June 17, 1944, after a popular referendum, the Althing proclaimed Iceland an independent republic.

Iceland Hit Hard by Financial Crisis

The country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 and subsequently received an American air force base in 1951. In 1970, it was admitted to the European Free Trade Association. Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial fishing limit from 3 to 200 nautical miles in 1972, precipitating a dispute with the UK known as the ?cod wars,? which ended in 1976 when the UK recognized the new limits. In 1980, the Icelanders elected a woman to the office of the presidency, the first elected female chief of state (i.e., president as distinct from prime minister) in the world. After the recession of the early 1990s, Iceland's economy rebounded.

At the International Whaling Commission meeting in July 2001, Iceland refused to agree to the continuation of the moratorium on commercial whaling that had been in effect since 1986. In 2003, after a 14-year lull, the country began hunting whales for scientific research.

In May 2003, David Oddsson was reelected, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Europe. In 2004, in a prearranged agreement made between the two parties of the coalition government, Oddsson and Foreign Minister Halldr sgrmsson switched positions. In June 2006 sgrmsson resigned as prime minister after his party did badly in local elections. Economic troubles were cited as the main reason for the Progressive Party's poor showing. Geir Haarde, leader of Iceland's largest political party, the Independence Party, became prime minister and announced the implementation of more fiscally conservative measures.

On October 9, 2008, amidst international stock market turmoil, the Icelandic stock exchange suspended trading and the government decided to nationalize three major banks. In November 2008, the IMF extended a $2 billion rescue package to Iceland to help its battered currency and stock market. Despite the aid, the financial crisis continued into 2009, prompting demonstrations against the government. Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned on January 26, 2009, causing the collapse of Iceland's government. On February 1, 2009, Johanna Sigurdardottir was sworn in as the new prime minister, becoming Iceland's first female prime minister and the modern world's first openly gay head of government. In April parliamentary elections, Sigurdardottir's center-left coalition won 34 out of 63 seats.

In a March 2010 referendum, voters in a landslide rejected the government's proposal to reimburse Britain and the Netherlands for $5 billion in losses incurred in the collapse of Landsbanki in 2008.

Ash Plume Wreaks Havoc on Air Travel

In late March 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted. The event produced minimal seismic activity, but an explosion on April 14 resulted in a volcanic ash plume in the atmosphere over northern and central Europe. Air travel in the region was halted for several days, causing the cancellation of several thousand flights and disrupting the travel plans of millions of people.

In a bit of an anticlimax, the former Icelandic prime minister, Geir Haarde, was acquitted of charges of negligence stemming from the 2008 financial crisis. He was found guilty of not holding enough cabinet meetings, but the verdict carried no sentence.

The June 2012 presidential election saw the reelection of lafur Ragnar Grmsson with 52.8% of the vote. The other candidates included Thra Arnrsdttir and Ari Trausti Gudmundsson who polled 33.2% and 8.6% respectively. Turnout was 69.2%.

Iceland not Enthusiastic About Joining the EU

In April 2013's legislative elections, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson's center-right Progressive party and the Independence party made significant inroads against the incumbent Social Democrats. As the new prime minister of the new coalition government, Gunnlaugsson announced a suspension of EU membership talks, and called for a referendum to gauge public opinion on future EU membership.

Government. Iceland has a multiparty parliamentary system, and there is a written constitution. Presidents are elected for four-year terms by direct popular vote but serve a parliamentary function and do not head a separate executive branch. The parliament is called Althingi after the medieval general assembly. It has sixty three members elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Each party puts forward a list of candidates, and people vote for parties, not candidates. The seats in the parliament are then distributed to parties according to the placement of people in their lists. Thus, elections

Leadership and Political Officials. After elections, the president asks one party, usually the one with the largest number of votes, to form a government of cabinet officers. There has never been a majority in the parliament, and so the governments are coalitions. The real political competition starts after elections, when those elected to the parliament jockey for positions in the new government. If the first party cannot form a coalition, the president will ask another one until a coalition government is formed. Cabinet ministers can sit in the parliament but may not vote unless they have been elected as members. This cabinet stays in power until another government is formed or until there are new elections. The president and the Althingi share legislative power because the president must approve all the legislation the parliament passes. In practice, this is largely a ritual act, and even a delay in signing legislation is cause for public comment. Constitutionally, the president holds executive power, but the cabinet ministers, who are responsible to the Althingi , exercise the power of their various offices. The parliament controls national finances, taxation, and financial allocations and appoints members to committees and executive bodies. There is an autonomous judicial branch. The voting age is 18, and about 87.4 percent of the people vote. The major parties include the Independence Party, Progressive Party, People's Alliance, Social Democrats, Women's Party, and Citizens/ Liberal Party. Each party controls a newspaper to spread and propagate its views. The mode of interaction with political officials is informal.

Social Problems and Control. There are few social problems, and crime is minimal. There is some domestic abuse and alcoholism. The unemployment rate is very low. Police routinely stop drivers to check for drunkenness, and violators have to serve jail time, often after waiting for a space in the jail to become available. There are no military forces.

Intriguing Facts About Iceland

1. There Aren&rsquot Many People

If you&rsquore like me, you love traveling to places that aren&rsquot overly crowded. Iceland can be good for this, compared to other parts of Europe, as long as you steer clear of the Reykjavik area. The population of Iceland is only 339,462, with more than a third of those people living in the capital city. Iceland is almost the size of Kentucky, which has 4.4 million residents. While tourism has boomed over the last 10 years, there are still plenty of places to explore where you&rsquoll be mostly alone.

2. Iceland Is An Eco-Friendly Country

I was very impressed to learn that the vast majority of Iceland&rsquos power supply comes from geothermal and hydro energy. In other words, this is a country that has clean power and a small carbon footprint. Iceland&rsquos scientists are currently working on a way to harness more geothermal energy as part of a plan that could change the entire world.

Tiny Elf Houses in Iceland

3. Icelanders Believe In Elves

Surveys indicate that 54.4 percent of the nation believes in the existence of huldufólk, invisible elves & trolls living in the countryside, with many others being at least open to the possibility. You can even see evidence of this belief during your trip to Iceland in the small wooden álfhól &ldquoelf houses&rdquo that some people build for the elves to live in. Iceland even has an official Elf School where you can learn about Icelandic elf history.

4. McDonald&rsquos Doesn&rsquot Exist In Iceland

Once upon a time, you could dine at one of Iceland&rsquos few McDonald&rsquos restaurants. This changed in 2009, and the Golden Arches don&rsquot appear set to make a return at any point in the near future. I was pleased by this fact, but don&rsquot worry there are several other fast food chains in Iceland. Hotdogs are particularly popular there!

5. Iceland Is One Of The Safest Countries

Coming from the U.S., I was pleasantly surprised by how rare violent crimes are in Iceland. How rare, you ask? The country was completely rocked by an unprecedented number of murders in 2017: four. In a typical year, there&rsquos an average of 1.6 murders and a very low instance of other violent or drug-related crimes.

Not Many Trees Left in Iceland Now&hellip

6. It Was Once Covered In Trees

This interesting fact is also one of the few things about Iceland that&rsquos not very idyllic. Before the Vikings plundered Iceland, 40 percent of the nation was covered in trees. However, they needed all the trees to build homes, boats, and to clear land for farming. Now, that number is only 2 percent, although reforestation efforts are underway.

7. Iceland Is Mosquito-Free!

Mosquitoes can make life miserable at times in the U.S., so I was thrilled to find out that Iceland is one of the world&rsquos few mosquito-free environments. No matter what time of year you visit, you won&rsquot have to worry about these pests. It&rsquos surprising that the population of Iceland isn&rsquot higher for this one reason alone.

8. They Eat Some Nasty Stuff

Iceland has some pretty disgusting food available to eat. Now, don&rsquot get me wrong. They&rsquore also known for some really good seafood and lamb. But their traditional dishes might produce a gag-reflex! The most famous has to be Hakarl, or fermented shark. This stuff is buried underground for 6-12 weeks, then hung out to dry in the sun. It tastes like ammonia (urine?) and is eaten with shots of unsweetened schnapps. Yum! Oh, and they sometimes enjoy a little smoked sheep&rsquos head too (Svið).

9. There Are No Traditional Last Names

When a child is born in Iceland, they don&rsquot get the same last name as either of their parents. Instead, their last name is derived from their father or mother&rsquos first name. Musician Björk provides us with a good example. Her father&rsquos first name is Guðmundur. Björk&rsquos full name is Björk Guðmundsdottir, which means the daughter of Guðmundur.

Iceland is a Fascinating Place!

10. Iceland Had A Peaceful Revolution

It wasn&rsquot reported on much in the international press, but Iceland had a successful (and peaceful) revolution. In 2008, the country&rsquos banking system collapsed, unemployment skyrocketed, and citizens were worried supermarkets would run out of food. Iceland&rsquos people took to the streets peacefully protesting with pots & pans, completely blocking all traffic around the capital. Eventually, the Prime Minister and former government were forced to resign, and the people wrote themselves a new constitution.

11. Iceland Is An Egalitarian Society

Iceland takes the idea of equality very seriously. It&rsquos considered to be the most feminist country in the world and also has a long history of being very accepting of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, only 3 percent of the country falls outside the middle class.

12. Temperatures Are Usually Mild

Iceland is a perfect choice for summertime travel as the average high temperature is only 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The overnight average summer low is 44 degrees, so it never gets too cold, either. But, the winters in Iceland can get pretty wild with freezing winds and heavy snowstorms.

13. Babies Nap Outside Alone

You probably won&rsquot have to worry about listening to a baby cry inside restaurants in Iceland. It shocks many people, but it&rsquos a common practice to leave babies outside in their strollers. You&rsquoll see this all over the country, including when the temperature drops as low as 20-30 degrees F (-5C).

14. People Swim In The Winter

One thing that&rsquos really useful about having geothermal volcanicly-heated water is that you can go swimming no matter how cold it is outside. There are countless hot-springs and many iceland hotels feature heated pools that can maintain a temperature of at least 86 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

The 2014 Holuhraun Volcanic Eruption

15. There Are 30 Active Volcanoes

I&rsquom fascinated by volcanoes and was excited to see some of them during my trip to Iceland. Including flying over an active eruption of the Holuhraun lava field in 2014. It was so cool! There are approximately 130 total volcanoes, and 30 of them are active. None are currently erupting (but that can change). Scientists have gotten so good at predicting volcanic eruptions that the risk to residents and tourists is minimal.

16. You Can Visit A Very Weird Museum

Before I went to Iceland, I&rsquod never imagined that there would be an entire museum dedicated to penises. Even odder, the collection of 200 penises on display at the Phallological Museum supposedly includes specimens from mythological creatures such as trolls.

17. Iceland Elected The First Female President

As previously mentioned, Iceland leads the world in feminism. Unsurprisingly, the country was also the first to elect a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who served from 1980 to 1996. Icelanders also elected an openly gay woman as their prime minister in 2009.

18. Homemade Ice Cream Is Everywhere

Iceland&rsquos unofficial national sweet treat is definitely ice cream. People wait in long lines for it daily, regardless of weather conditions. After trying some of their homemade ice cream, I can see why it&rsquos delicious!

19. Iceland Once Hunted Male Witches

Iceland may seem idyllic in many ways, but the country does have a dark history. Just like the U.S. and many parts of Europe, Iceland went through a period of witch hunts from 1654 to 1690. Only one woman was prosecuted as a witch during this time though because men were the primary targets.

Iceland has the Coolest 4X4s&hellip

20. Super Jeeps Are A Thing

Iceland is full of remote and rugged landscapes, and to reach some of them, especially in the winter, some locals use &ldquosuper jeeps&rdquo. A super jeep is a highly modified truck with a lifted suspension and oversized tires that allow it to cross deep rivers or drive through deep snow and ice. Most of Iceland&rsquos roads are paved, but for the off-road trails that go into the central highlands, these jeeps make it possible to travel in the winter.

21. Iceland Is Young

In terms of landform, Iceland is the world&rsquos youngest country. Going along with this fact, Iceland was also the last European nation to be settled. However, don&rsquot be fooled by Iceland&rsquos youthfulness as it&rsquos still approximately 25 million years old.

22. Most Of The Country Is Uninhabited

Due to Iceland&rsquos unique topography, only 20 percent of it is actually inhabited by humans. Many of the remote, uninhabited areas can be visited, but I highly recommend registering your plans with ICE-SAR first using the 112 Iceland App. This is the best way to get help if something goes wrong in the middle of nowhere&hellip

23. Iceland Has No Military

Iceland doesn&rsquot have a military and has only fought in one conflict. The Cod Wars were a power struggle with Great Britain for exclusive fishing rights to the water within 200 miles of Iceland&rsquos shoreline. Iceland won after attacking their enemy&rsquos fishing nets with scissors.

24. Icelandic Students Learn Three Languages

Icelandic students are taught their native language, along with English and Danish. It&rsquos estimated that at least 80 percent of young students can understand basic English, and some people claim that as many as 98 percent of adults are fluent in multiple languages. I had no problems communicating with everyone I encountered in Iceland.

25. There&rsquos An App To Prevent Dating Your Cousin

Because Iceland&rsquos population is so small, there&rsquos a slight issue with everyone being related. This can be a problem in the local dating scene. So there&rsquos a smartphone app called Íslendinga-App that lets Icelanders check if they are related or not. The company&rsquos slogan is &ldquoBump the app before you bump in bed.&rdquo LOL!

Iceland is a very special travel destination. The stargazing is breathtaking, the local cuisine is unusual and locals are often happy to share one of the area&rsquos entertaining legends and myths. ★

Travel Planning Resources For Iceland
Packing Guide
Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.
Book Your Flight
Ready to fly? Here&rsquos how I find the cheapest airline flights.
Rent A Car
Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.
Cheap Accommodation
Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.
Protect Your Trip
Don&rsquot forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

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I hope you enjoyed my list of interesting Iceland facts! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

  • Check out my ultimate Iceland Ring Road itinerary to learn about all the top highlights along the way.
  • Planning a trip to Iceland, but not sure when to go? Here&rsquos the best time to visit Iceland organized by seasons.
  • If you only have a few days, a better option is to drive Iceland&rsquos Golden Circle as a day trip instead.
  • Learn how to properly photograph the amazing Northern Lights during your adventure.
  • Organizing an Iceland road trip, but afraid of driving? Here&rsquos everything you should know about driving in Iceland.
  • Save some money and learn about the best places to stay in Reykjavikwhen you visit the city.
  • Want to improve your photos? Read my best travel photography tipsand guide to picking a travel camera.

What do you think about these Iceland facts? Are you planning a trip there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Iceland Population - History

Iceland's Scandinavian-type economy is basically capitalistic, yet with an extensive welfare system (including generous housing subsidies), low unemployment, and remarkably even distribution of income. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant geothermal power), the economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides 70% of export earnings and employs 6% of the work force. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to fluctuations in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon. Substantial foreign investment in the aluminum and hydropower sectors has boosted economic growth which, nevertheless, has been volatile and characterized by recurrent imbalances. Government policies include reducing the current account deficit, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, and diversifying the economy. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources. Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale watching. The 2006 closure of the US military base at Keflavik had very little impact on the national economy Iceland's low unemployment rate aided former base employees in finding alternate employment.

5. Reykjavik Pride has never been protested

Icelanders are very proud of the fact that their Reykjavik Pride, once Gay Pride, is the only one in the world where no one has ever protested.

This might have to do with the size of the population. Again, everyone somehow links to everyone, closely even and prejudice usually comes from ignorance. So, if all of us know someone who is queer it makes it pretty hard not to be understanding.

Take me for example, my aunt has been out and proud for several decades without reprisal. My best friend’s father came out as gay and two of my closest friend’s are gay. So like many Icelanders, that means that I’ve grown up knowing out, gay people from a very young age. Love is love!

So How Did the Names Get Switched?

The current names come from the Vikings. Norse custom was to name a thing as they saw it. For instance, when he saw wild grapes (blackberries, probably) growing on the shore, Erik the Red’s son, Leif Eríksson, named a portion of Canada “Vinland.”

Ice core and mollusk shell data suggests that from A.D. 800 to 1300, southern Greenland was much warmer than it is today. This means that when the Vikings first arrived, the Greenland name would make sense. But by the 14 th century, maximum summer temperatures in Greenland had dropped. Lower temperatures meant fewer crops and more sea ice, forcing the local Norse population to abandon their colonies.

The Icelandic sagas fill in the other half of the switched-name story.

The legends say Naddador was the first Norse explorer to reach Iceland, and he named the country Snæland or “snow land” because it was snowing. Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarosson followed Naddador, and this led to the island being called Garðarshólmur (“Garðar’s Isle”). Alas, Garðar’s Isle was not so kind to its next arrival, a Viking named Flóki Vilgerðarson. Flóki’s daughter drowned en route to Iceland, then all his livestock starved to death as the winter dragged on. Depressed and frustrated, Flóki, the sagas say, climbed a mountain only to see a fjord full of icebergs, which led to the island's new name.

Like the iceberg that struck the Titanic, the spring ice that Flóki saw most likely drifted over from Greenland, but no matter—Flóki’s name stuck fast in the Viking world. Back in Norway, Flóki disparaged Iceland, but one member of his crew named Thorólf spread rumors that the new island was so rich, butter dripped from every blade of grass. Permanent settlement began soon after.

The new population on the island “felt they were part of the Nordic region, but they wanted to maintain a separate identity,” says Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a professor of history and newly elected president of Iceland. These settlers called themselves Íslendingur, which Guðni says means “a man from Iceland in the court of Norway.”

“An island has to have a name, and that is the one that stuck,” he adds.

A century later, Iceland was a growing democracy and the home of Erik the Red, who was banished from the country after killing three people in a feud. He sailed west in search of a new home—and found it. The sagas (in this case Erik the Red’s Saga of the Icelanders) tell the rest of the story in a single sentence:

“In the summer, Erik left to settle in the country he had found, which he called Greenland, as he said people would be attracted there if it had a favorable name.”

Thus, Iceland was named by a sad Viking and Greenland is the slogan of a medieval marketing scheme.

“It is unfortunate that the name Greenland stuck because that is not the name that the natives know it by,” Guðni says. Today’s Greenlanders call their country Kalaallit Nunaat, which simply means “Land of the People” in the Greenlandic Inuit language.