Iceland, located just south of the Arctic Circle, was settled by Norse Vikings in the late ninth and early tenth century AD. After a few centuries as an independent commonwealth, it came under Norwegian and later Danish rule. In 1944, Iceland declared itself independent from Denmark. Today, Iceland is a republic with a parliamentary government.

Icelanders are both of Norwegian and Celtic origin and the population is culturally and socially homogeneous. The country is sparsely populated, with a total population of over 26,000 in 1994. More than 90 percent of the population lives in towns or villages with more than 200 people.

Fishing is cornerstone of Iceland economy

Fisheries are the cornerstone of the economy, but employ only slightly more than a tenth of the work force. Cod is by far the most important species. The catch also includes redfish, saithe, shrimp, haddock, Greenland halibut, ocean catfish, scallops, Norway lobster, capelin, and herring. All whaling has ended, and seal hunting is not profitable and thus likely to end as well.

Agriculture is mostly limited to potatoes, turnips, grass cultivation, and animal husbandry of sheep and dairy cattle. Hot springs are used for extensive greenhouse cultivation of tomatoes, cucumber, and flowers.

The diet is typically western, but with more fish than other European nations. Fish, meat, and milk are the main foods.

Western ailments but long lives

Health standards and health services are similar to other Scandinavian countries. Lifestyle-related diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, are the biggest killers. The greatest social ailment is probably alcoholism.

Icelanders have the prospect of a life span longer than that enjoyed by most other nations. Life expectancy at birth is 77.8 years. The infant mortality rate is 6 per 1 000 live births.


The Saami live in northern Fennoscandia and on the Kola Peninsula of northwest Russia. The Saami homeland is located in four different countries, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, but their shared culture and history makes it natural to describe all Saami together.

Saami populations, number of individuals and percent of total population.

There are no completely reliable estimates of the number of Saami people, both because of different definitions of who is Saami and because ethnicity is not included in recent national census figures. Furthermore, some people with Saami ancestry choose not to identify themselves as Saami. Adjusted older data puts the figure at about 85,000 people. Of these, approximately 50,000 live in the Arctic, where they make up about 2.5 percent of the region’s population.

In 1751, the civil rights of the Saami were recognized in the Saami Codicil. This supplement to a new border treaty between Norway and Sweden was written to solve problems of double taxation for the Saami, whose traditional migration routes had little to do with administrative boundaries. Today, the Saami parliaments in Norway, Sweden, and Finland are exploring a common platform across national borders. People who perceive themselves as Saami and who also speak Saami as their first language or have a parent or grandparent who speaks Saami as a first language are eligible to vote for the Saami parliaments.

Nation states have steered living conditions

The Saami homeland is divided by national borders. Both historically and today, lives of Saami people are heavily influenced by the different nation states. In all countries, the Saami homelands have been colonized by the majority populations. In Sweden, for example, settlers and miners used Saami land and labor to develop the northern part of the country. Conflicts over land use are still common, especially in connection with development of hydroelectric power and the right to use forest areas for reindeer grazing in winter. Increased recreational hunting is also seen as competition for traditional Saami resources.

The Saami poet Ingahilda Tapio has written about land that has been lost to hydroelectric dams:

long, long ago
there were small lakes here
rapids, sounds, bays
small rivers
now all is under water

long, long ago
there were cloudberries here
Sámi tents by the lakes
now all is under water

long, long ago
this was a peaceful place
with fawning reindeer cows
now all is under water

In Norway, the traditional Saami area extends from Finnmark west and south to Hedmark. The Saami in this region were originally nomadic. They were forced to change their system of migration and resource use because game populations were declining and because Norse settlements were increasing along the coast. Some became small farmers, combining fishing and trapping along the fjords. Others became reindeer herders or settled on the coast. The different groups continue to interact.

Today, Saami in Sweden live primarily in Norrbotten and Västerbotten and in the mountain fields of Jämtland and Härjedalen. Only 15 percent of the Saami are engaged in reindeer herding, the rest in occupations similar to the rest of the population. There are over 500 reindeer owners among the Saami of the region, of whom about half are engaged in reindeer breeding.

The Saami in Finland were originally settled hunting and trapping societies. Finns moving north forced them northwards where they developed a combination of reindeer herding and fishing. Today, most Saami in Finland live in four municipalities: Inari, Enontekiö, Utsjoki, and northern Sodankylä. Saami have no special rights, but improvement in regulations of reindeer herding have allowed living conditions for Saami to approach those of the general population.

In Russia, immigrant populations pushed the migratory Saami northwards, beginning in the 17th century. Later changes, such as the demarcation of national boundaries and the closing of the Soviet border, forced further alterations to migratory patterns. Economic policies and a policy of assimilation, especially during the Soviet period, led to additional disruptions in the traditional way of life. Today there are 11 Saami villages, of which Lovozero is the largest.

Reindeer herding, fishing, and farming are parts of Saami life

The Saami way of life today varies depending on where people live; see figure above. In Norway, the majority live in fjord societies, combining farming with fishing in local waters. Over the whole Saami area, fjord Saami make up more than a third of the total Saami population. In Norway, there are also some coastal societies, based on sea fishing. Almost one third of the Saami belong to inland societies, engaged in farming, reindeer husbandry, and some freshwater fishing. The rest make a living in the regular cash economy, often in combination with traditional activities.

The Saami diet reflects the natural resources in the region. Coastal Saami have a diet high in fish, especially cod, and marine products. Fjord Saami eat some fish, most likely from local stocks, and also farm produce. Inland Saami consume large amounts of reindeer meat, as well as some freshwater fish. Farmers consume large amounts of lamb meat.

Most hunting in the Saami areas today is recreational, and is usually done by urban residents visiting the area. While bringing some economic benefits, sport hunting for ptarmigan also conflicts with traditional Saami hunting and other occupations.

Today reindeer herding is increasingly carried out with the help of modern technology, such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and helicopters, and in many cases as a business enterprise rather than as a subsistence activity.


The population of Arctic Norway is about 380,000. After a period of people leaving the north, young people are becoming more likely to stay in the area in which they were raised, and also to return after education in the south.

The non-indigenous population has a primarily urban lifestyle. The diet is similar to the rest of Norway but with higher consumption of potatoes and fish, and lower consumption of fruits, vegetables, and alcohol.

Fishing and mining form the economic base of the region. The average income is lower than for Norway as a whole, but unemployment is similar to the national level.

The health situation in Arctic Norway lags behind the rest of the country. The northernmost counties have the highest mortality rates, especially in the fishing communities along the coast.

Life expectancy for men in the region is five years below the national average of 74.0 years. For women, it is three years below the national average of 80.9 years. The trend for younger people is more optimistic, partly because dietary changes have led to reduced rates of heart disease. Infant mortality, which recently was much higher than in the rest of Norway, is now at the national level.

Accidental deaths are more common in the north, including for example snowmobile accidents connected with alcohol consumption. Smoking is more common than in the south, and is increasing among women. In Sør-Varanger, contact allergies in school children, mostly to nickel, are much more common than in the rest of Norway.

Health care is available, but the sparse population and small isolated communities cannot support full-service hospitals. Education levels have increased drastically, and may become one of the most effective means of improving the health of people in the region.


The AMAP area of Sweden includes the area north of the Arctic Circle. It is a forest, wetland, and tundra landscape, of which about one-half percent is used for agriculture or human settlement. The population has increased during this century, when Sweden started to exploit the forest, hydroelectric power, and mineral resources of its north. Currently, the population is stable. In 1990, there were over 260,000 people in the county of Norrbotten, which is the northernmost in Sweden. Of these, approximately 64,000 lived north of the Arctic Circle. More than 80 percent of the people of Norrbotten live in towns.

Aside from the Saami, the Arctic part of Sweden is mostly populated by Swedes, with a sizable Finnish-speaking minority. The way of life has a stronger emphasis on the use of natural resources than in southern Sweden. For example, hunting and fishing are important activities. People are more likely to work in mining, electricity, water services, forestry, or public services. Dairy farming is the main agricultural activity, but farming has declined drastically since earlier in this century.

Dietary surveys have shown that people in northern Sweden eat less vegetables and drink less wine, but eat more fat and drink more beer and spirits than other Swedes. They also eat more reindeer meat.

Life expectancy is half a year lower than for Sweden as a whole. Relative mortality is higher, mostly because of more accidents, more alcohol-related diseases, more circulatory organ diseases, including heart disease, and more stomach cancer.


The northernmost province of Finland, Lapland, covers one-third of the country. Coniferous forests dominate the landscape, but there are also substantial areas of marsh land and treeless highlands. Lapland is sparsely populated with slightly above 200000 inhabitants, of whom half live in the largest cities in the south. There are nearly 7,000 Saami in Finland, of whom 4,000 live in northern Lapland.

Although unemployment is higher, the standard of living in Lapland equals that of the rest of Finland. Government assistance and development measures have an important role in the economy. Essential infrastructure, such as water supply and waste treatment, and services, such as education and health care, reach all population groups.

Service and tourism are the most rapidly growing industries in Lapland, often connected to natural attractions and winter sports. In rural areas, traditional ways of life include a mixture of livelihoods, such as reindeer herding, animal husbandry, small-scale agriculture, forestry, fishing, and service. Heavy industry is concentrated in the Kemi-Tornio area on the coast of Bothnian Bay, with forest-product and metal factories, and in southeastern Lapland, with the forest industry.

The diet is similar to that in other parts of Finland, although local products such as reindeer, fish (river trout, brown trout, and whitefish), and a variety of natural berries and mushrooms play a large role. Fish are imported from the Gulf of Bothnia and the Arctic Ocean.

Housing, with air-tight buildings, is connected to some health problems. In rural areas, housing standards are lower than elsewhere in Finland.

Age-adjusted mortality is higher in Lapland than in the rest of Finland. Leading causes of death are circulatory diseases, cancer, accidents, and violence.