Settled 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.


Location: Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
Geographic coordinates: 65 00 N, 18 00 W
Population: 313,183 (July 2012 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 20.2% (male 31,929/female 31,034)

15-64 years: 67.1% (male 105,541/female 103,202)

65 years and over: 12.7% (male 17,974/female 21,378) (2011 est.)

Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Iceland

conventional short form: Iceland

local long form: Lydveldid Island

local short form: Island

Government type: constitutional republic
Capital: name: Reykjavik

geographic coordinates: 64 09 N, 21 57 W

time difference: UTC (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Telephones – main lines in use: 204,000 (2009)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 348,100 (2009)
Airports: 99 (2012)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 6

over 3,047 m: 1

1,524 to 2,437 m: 3

914 to 1,523 m:2 (2012)

Military branches: no regular military forces; Icelandic National Police (2008)
Manpower available for military service: Males age 16-49:  75,337 (2010 est.)


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, aluminium, and ferrosilicon.


Substantial foreign investment in the aluminium 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.

Transnational Issues:

Iceland, the UK, and Ireland dispute Denmark’s claim that the Faroe Islands’ continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm.