65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 15

65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 15
Population and the Standard of Living by EIRIKA ANNA FRIBRIKSDOTTIR Taken by themselves, figures tend to tell a dry story, until they are related to human beings and their conditions. The following article will try to give an impression of Iceland and the conditions of living in the 18th, 19th and the 20th centuries. The first complete population census was taken in 1703, on the advice of Arni Magnusson, famous for his collection of Icelandic manu- scripts, and of Pall Vidalin. It’s main purpose was to describe the conditions under which people lived, as the poverty was great. The population numbered then 50 358. At the end of 1966, the National Register recorded 196 549 persons. Pro- gress, however, had not been smooth throughout this period. The 18th century saw several smallpox epidemics, and during the great epidemic, which started in 1707, some 18 000 people died. Further severe losses were caused by volcanic outbreaks, the eruption of Katla in 1756—1759 and in particular the eruption in the 25 km long crater- row Lakagigar in 1783. This caused a fall of sulphur oxide, which destroyed pastures, so that some 190 000 sheep died in the following year, as well as other live stock. The hunger of the population was correspondingly severe and about 10 000 people died of starvation. In 1786 the population reached the low figure of only 38 363. The population losses were not overcome until 1823, when the 50 000 mark was reached again. From then on, until 1880 the population increas- Mrs. FriSriksdottir took her M. Sc. in Economics in Prague, Czechoslovakia, has done additional studies in other European universities, and as statistician, worked with UNRRA and the United Nations, and taught at the Australian National University. Since 1959 she worked with the Ice- land Bank of Development, and now works with the Economic Institute. ed. At the census of that year 72 444 persons were recorded. The next period saw again a decrease, as, due to bad winters and generally bad condi- tions thousands of Icelanders emigrated to the United States and Canada. Since 1890 the popula- tion has been increasing steadily, due to better economic conditions and the concomitant im- provement in medical care. In 1703 there were 27 491 women to only 22 867 men, in 1966, the proportions were re- versed, 99 371 men to 97 178 women. As this low number of males had been registered also for the age group of under 5 year olds, it must be as- sumed that infant mortality, in particular im- mediately after birth, was very high, as boys show higher mortality in the first weeks. Another un- expected fact was the high marriage age and low marriage frequency. Of 1000 men aged between 20 and 39 years 754 were unmarried in 1703, and only 538 in 1950. This high marriage age, and the low percentage of men ever married, 46% in 1703 as against 62% in 1950 can be considered an indicator of poverty. To found a family was a serious matter in difficult times. A more definite indicator of poverty was the. number of paupers recorded in 1703. 14.2% were defined as paupers, mainly dependent on parish aid and apportioned to various households.. Nearly every family housed a pauper. Now there are no paupers in Iceland, for social welfare ar- rangements include both orphans and old people. These statistics are only the skeleton for an understanding of living then and now. The Rev. Jonas Jonasson has given us clear pictures of living conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries in his book, Islenzkir pjoffhcettir, and these will be used for comparison with conditions of today. Housing has always been a major problem, as there is no building timber, nor are there easily 15 65



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