Why Iceland Has More Unmarried Parents Than Any Country On The Planet

Knot gonna do it.

by Dylan Love
Originally Published: 
parenting around the world

Strip clubs, McDonald’s, mosquitos — all things you won’t find in Iceland. Things you will find, in addition to abundant natural beauty, include beer (legal since 1989!), tons of people who believe in elves, and kids born out of wedlock. In 2014, 70.5 percent of Icelandic babies were born to parents who hadn’t bothered to tie the knot.

If you’re wondering, the next closest country on the “Marriage Is So Last Century” list is Bulgaria, where 59.1 percent of parents were unmarried. In the U.S., the number is closer to 40 percent. So … why? Well, for one thing, Iceland is probably the least paternalistic country on the planet.

Flickr / kayte terry

Iceland is something of a feminist wonderland that passes effectively no judgment on single mothers. There’s no pressure to marry and, if a marriage isn’t working, no pressure to stay that way. Women’s issues are embraced, and women are well-represented in the nation’s politics. In 1980, that meant electing President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first female head of state for any European nation. In 2016, it means Icelanders roll hard in the #FreeTheNipple movement (keep it in mind if you’re visiting with the missus).

Then there’s the welfare state, which is typically robust for a Nordic country. From paid family leave to universal health care, parents are granted significant social resources without any regard for their marital status. Needless to say, no one in Iceland is getting married for the medical insurance.

The unusual geography of the population probably plays a role, as well. Of the country’s 329,100 people, over two thirds of them live in or around the capital of Reykjavik. If it takes a village to raise a kid, Iceland effectively has one village, which means grandparents, aunts, and uncles are all nearby to pitch in when necessary. As one American living in Iceland noted, “It’s convenient to keep a family connected, regardless of the parent’s decision to stay together.”

Flickr / Haukur Herbertsson

Maybe this is all just the long-tail culture effect of fellow Nord Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, which reportedly led to a spike in divorce rates upon its initial release in 1973. Or maybe Icelanders have learned their lesson about being fiscally irresponsible. Considering the average cost of an American wedding is $26,000, can you blame them?

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