Iceland has long been lauded as a utopian island because of its forward-thinking politics, open society, and gender equality. Now, Iceland has ranked second on the Social Progress Index (SPI), which measures well-being within a given country. Quality of life in Iceland now only ranks behind Norway by a thin margin.

Laying the Foundation for Well-being

The Social Progress Imperative is the think tank behind the Social Progress Index, which measures well-being and quality of life in 146 countries without relying on economic data, unlike many other indices.

Three main areas are addressed: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity, which are further divided into subcategories that have either a direct or an indirect impact on individual and social welfare. The results are calculated based on information from reliable sources, like the United Nations.   

Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, has said that there are two sets of problems in the world.

The first are tangible, and are already being addressed—nutrition, sanitation, and education.

The second type are unsolved—environmental policies, health, wellness, tolerance, inclusion—and they have no correlation to financial prosperity. The SPI aims to solve the second category of problems by encouraging world leaders to look at social problems, as well as economic problems.

In other words, stronger economies have no real value if they don’t translate into a better quality of life.

Always Room for Improvement

Quality of life in Iceland scores highest in 12 of 51 categories, including ‘water and sanitation’ and ‘basic medical care’. It also scores exceptionally high for ‘access to basic knowledge’ and ‘personal rights.’  It measures fourth in ‘personal safety’, likely because of a spike in homicides in 2017, when four people were murdered.

Further, its university system ranks 52nd, meaning that its universities are not ranked or not ranked highly enough on other international indices for the quality of university education.

It also ranks comparatively low—surprisingly—in environmental matters, specifically ‘biome protection’ (in other words, the percentage of naturally occurring communities of flora and fauna in protected areas.  If the long-anticipated Central Highlands National Park were to come to fruition, that measure would likely go up.

Quality of Life in Iceland: A Scorecard

Download a PDF of Iceland’s Scorecard