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Nordregio: Young Icelanders shy away from traditional occupations

Nordregio: Young Icelanders shy away from traditional occupations

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir, photo: Yadid Levy/ and Private

Icelandic youths are not interested in a future career in agriculture or fisheries. The only animals they will consider looking after in the future are pets. They would rather become coaches or work in the fitness sector, according to a fresh study from Nordregio which has mapped the future perspectives of young people in the Arctic.

Higher education and vocational training are important reasons for why young people in the Arctic move to larger towns and cities. They also want to be able to combine work, education and a new place to live. They prefer bigger towns in the Arctic but also want to be mobile if needs be. These are some of the results from Nordregio’s working paper on the future perspectives of Nordic Arctic youth.

Anna Karlsdóttir Senior Research Fellow fellow Anna Karlsdóttir says young people in Iceland are not aiming for traditional occupations in the countryside.

“I think we need to consider how we want to shape society in rural municipalities,” she says, and proposes that municipalities appoint youth delegates as paid representatives to give young people the possibility to influence how the municipalities develop.

Norwegians think along the same lines

Norwegian youths share many of the future perspectives of their Icelandic colleagues. They want to start a family with a spouse and children, and perhaps also have pets at home, but they do not want to look after cows, sheep or chickens. Anna believes this is interesting in light of how the labour market will develop and also in an Icelandic and Nordic context.

“Right now we are discussing Nordic cooperation on food security. But if young people cannot imagine working with food production or in related areas in the future, we are facing a gap which we must discuss,” she says.

The youth study is part of a larger and more comprehensive project called Foresight which is based on material gathered from several areas in the Nordic region. In Iceland meetings were held with young people in the north-east of the island. The youths were aged 16 to 20+, which was slightly older than the youths in Norway and in the Faroe Islands. Anna believes this might influence results:

“The Icelandic participants had clearer visions and ideas for the future than the other Nordic participants,” she says.

“They would like to gain work experience from larger towns and to be able to move back home again,” she says.

Active in the labour market

There is high youth unemployment among Swedish, Finnish and Danish youths, but Icelandic and Norwegian youths normally start working early on and have more workplace experience. Anna Karlsdóttir thinks this is good. She wonders whether young people who are in the process of getting an education will remain young rather than develop into established adults. 

Icelandic youths are following that trend, according to Anna. They just want to study and enjoy a carefree life, and they do not want to take on responsibilities like their parents were forced to do, not for another 10 to 15 years.

“This is also a global trend,” she says.

Health is important

Icelanders are preoccupied with health. They exercise and aim to live long. Previous generations focused less on this. Young people also aim for new occupations, like coaching, working in the fitness sector or with mindfulness. Anna believes the reason for their interest in new occupations could be the fact that young Icelanders have major weight issues.


Icelandic father and daughter playing basketball.


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