Iceland Mag

3 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


An American in Reykjavik: Iceland´s Modern Family

By Matt Eliason

  • Popular American TV Show, Modern Family, gives a comedic view of the stereotypical American family.

Now that I have been living in Iceland for over a month, my first-impressions are starting to grow into more substantiated observations. At this point in my European journey, I have collected a more sufficient sample size to confirm the behavioral interpretations that I have begun to conclude about the Icelandic culture. One peculiar characteristic of the Icelandic ethos, which did not align with my expectations, is the unique family structure that seems to work for this well-adjusted culture.

"70% of all Icelandic babies are born out of wedlock and Iceland is home to one of the highest divorce rates in the world."

When I saw these statistics, it really changed my perception of how a society can operate. Icelanders are such a well-adjusted, polite, stable group of people and all of my pre-conceived, American principals of how to raise a family have been challenged. Not to mention, Iceland, as well as the rest of the Scandinavian countries, are consistently ranked as the happiest people in the world. Just walking around the city of Reykjavik, I notice the significant amount of young men and women that already have 1 or 2 kids. It surprises me that such young couples are capable of raising a child, when they are not far from being children themselves.

"While I might not understand the Scandinavian model for family structure, you can´t argue with the results it has produced."

In the United States, the social order of family life goes, save up money, get engaged, get married, and then have kids. I have never really questioned this system; it just seemed like the most stable way to raise a family. I am, by no means, saying that American family life is perfect. Far from it, in fact, as I realize that 50% of the American marriages end in divorce. However, waiting an extra 5 years to get married and have kids seems like a more appropriate way to mitigate the financial risk and immaturity that young, unmarried men and women typically possess.

So if I had to guess why the Icelandic family system  works so well for this Nordic society, I would point-out 3 key characteristics that define Icelandic culture:

  1. Financial Stability: 97% of Icelanders identify themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class. Thus, the financial equality found in this culture, allows for a more stable society to raise a kid. Additionally, higher education is essentially free, so the cost of raising a child is much cheaper in Iceland.

  2. Geographic Convenience: If a couple has a kid and decides to get divorced or break-up, it is easy for both parents to remain in the child´s life due to the population concentration of Iceland´s main city. The Reykjavik area is home to 66% of the country´s population. It is convenient to keep a family connected, regardless of the parent´s decision to stay together.

  3. Family Support: The younger couples that have kids also have the support of their own parents from a financial prospective. Additionally, most families live in the same neighborhoods as their parents, creating a strong support system to raise the newborn child. In Iceland, it is the entire community´s responsibility to help raise the child.

​Ranked among the happiest countries in the world, you can´t argue with the results that Icelanders have produced as a result of its unique family structure. Often frowned upon in the United States, Iceland is home to a society with numerous young couples having children out of wedlock. Despite, the frequent number of single parents and the high divorce rate, Iceland has created a crime-free, middle class society that effectively raises its younger culture into functioning, law-abiding citizens.

Related content

Editor's Picks