Facts about Iceland

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IcelandSettled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.

Geography of Iceland

Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
65 00 N, 18 00 W
total: 103,000 sq km
land: 100,250 sq km
water: 2,750 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly smaller than Kentucky
Land boundaries:
0 km
4,988 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 NM or to the edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers
mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fiords
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Hvannadalshnukur 2,119 m (at Vatnajokull glacier)
Natural resources:
fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Natural hazards:
earthquakes and volcanic activity
Environment current issues:
water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Geography - note:
strategic location between Greenland and Europe; westernmost European country; Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe

Population of Iceland

304,367 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 21.7% (male 33,021/female 32,021)
15-64 years: 66.5% (male 100,944/female 98,239)
65 years and over: 11.7% (male 15,876/female 19,287)
Median age:
34.2 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
3.29 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 80.31 years
male: 78.23 years
female: 82.48 years
Fertility rate:
1.92 children born/woman
noun: Icelander(s)
adjective: Icelandic
Ethnic groups:
homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%
Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic Church 2%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4%
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.9% 


Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Iceland
local short form: Island
local long form: Lydhveldidh Island
Government type:
constitutional republic
Administrative divisions:
8 regions; Austurland, Hofudhborgarsvaedhi, Nordhurland Eystra, Nordhurland Vestra, Sudhurland, Sudhurnes, Vestfirdhir, Vesturland
1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark)
National holiday:
Independence Day, 17 June (1944)
16 June 1944, effective 17 June 1944
Legal system:
civil law system based on Danish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (since 1 August 1996)
head of government: Prime Minister Geir H. HAARDE (since 7 June 2006)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister
elections: president, largely a ceremonial post, is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits); election last held 26 June 2004 (next to be held in June 2008); following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually the prime minister.
Legislative branch:
unicameral Parliament or Althing (63 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court or Haestirettur (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice); eight district courts (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice)


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.

$12.19 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 8.6%
industry: 15%
services: 76.5%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 10.3%
industry: 18.3%
services: 71.4%
revenues: $6.995 billion
expenditures: $6.761 billion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 0.1%
hydro: 82.5%
other: 17.5% (geothermal) 
nuclear: 0%
fish processing; aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power; tourism
potatoes, green vegetables, mutton, dairy products, fish
fish and fish products 70%, aluminum, animal products, ferrosilicon, diatomite
Export partners:
UK 17.9%, Germany 16.4%, Netherlands 13%, US 8.1%, Spain 7.7%, Denmark 4.3% 
machinery and equipment, petroleum products; foodstuffs, textiles
Import partners:
Germany 13.4%, US 9.1%, Sweden 8.6%, Denmark 7.3%, Norway 7.2%, UK 5.9%, China 5.3%, Netherlands 5%, Japan 4.7% 
Icelandic krona (ISK)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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