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Nationality: Noun--Icelander(s). Adjective--Icelandic.
Population (2002): 288,201.
Annual growth rate: 0.68%.
Ethnic group: Relatively homogenous mixture of descendants of Norwegians and Celts.
Religion: Evangelical Lutheran, 87%.
Education: Compulsory up to age 16. Attendance--99%. Literacy--99.9%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--2.2/1,000. Life expectancy--men 78.2 years, women 82.2 years.
Work force (2003, 158,200): Commerce--14.0%; manufacturing--11.2%; fishing/fish processing--8.2%; construction--6.7%; transportation and communications--6.8%; agriculture--4.4%; unemployment (2003)--3.9%
People of Iceland
Most Icelanders are descendants of Norwegian settlers and Celts from the British Isles, and the population is remarkably homogeneous. According to Icelandic Government statistics, 93% of the nation's inhabitants live in urban areas (localities with populations greater then 200) and about 60% live in Reykjavik metropolitan area. Of the Nordic languages, the Icelandic language is closest to the Old Norse language and has remained relatively unchanged since the 12th century.
About 91% of the population belongs to the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, or other Lutheran Churches. However, Iceland has complete religious liberty, and about 20 other religious congregations are present.
Most Icelandic surnames are based on patronymy, or the adoption of the father's first given name. For example, Magnus and Anna, children of a man named Petur, would hold the surname Petursson and Petursdottir, respectively. Magnus' children, in turn, would inherit the surname Magnusson, while Anna's children would claim their father's first given name as their surname. Women normally maintain their original surnames after marriage. This system of surnames is required by law, except for the descendants of those who had acquired family names before 1913. Most Icelanders, while reserved by nature, rarely call each other by their surnames, and even phone directories are based on first names. Because of its small size and relative homogeneity, Iceland holds all the characteristics of a very close-knit society.
The Sagas, almost all written between 1180-1300 A.D., remain Iceland's best-known literary accomplishment, and they have no surviving counterpart anywhere in the Nordic world. Based on Norwegian and Icelandic histories and genealogies, the Sagas present views of Nordic life and times up to 1100 A.D. The Saga writers sought to record their heroes' great achievements and to glorify the virtues of courage, pride, and honor, focusing in the later Sagas on early Icelandic settlers. The best-known Icelandic writer of the 20th century is the Nobel Prize winner Halldor Kiljan Laxness. The literacy rate is 99.9%, and literature and poetry are a legendary passion with the population. Per capita publication of books and magazines is the highest in the world.
Unlike its literature, Iceland's fine arts did not flourish until the 19th century because the population was small and scattered. Iceland's most famous painters are Asgrimur Jonsson, Jon Stefansson, and Johannes Kjarval, all of whom worked during the first half of the 20th century. The best-known modern sculptor, Asmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982), drew his inspiration from Icelandic folklore and the Sagas for many of his works.
Kristjan Johannsson is most likely Iceland's most famous opera singer, while pop singer Bjork is probably its best-known artist internationally together with the progressive rock band Sigur Ros.