Iceland Mag

10 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


State spending on culture higher in Iceland than any European country, 3.2% of GDP

By Staff

  • Harpa concert hall Iceland spends more on supporting culture, sports and recreational activities than any other European nation. Photo Vigfús Birgisson.

Icelandic government expenditure on culture and recreation is higher than that of any other European country. According to data from Eurostat government spending on sports, culture, recreational as well as religious activities was 3.2% of GDP in 2015, more than three times more than the European Average. The average for the EU is only 1%.

Spending on recreation helps keep teens out of trouble
Spending on culture, recreation and sports and efforts to engage youth in after-school recreational activites have been identified by experts as major reasons why substance abuse among Icelandic teens has dropped drastically in recent years. Iceland tops the list for the "cleanest living teens", with only 5% of 15 or 16 year olds who have been drunk in the previous month in 2016. Only 7% have ever used cannabis, and just 3% smoke.

Read more: American scholar: Iceland the world’s most progressive country in reducing teenage substance abuse

The Icelandic approach to teen substance abuse has been the focus of significant foreign interest. Earlier this year the US magazine The Atlantic ran a long story on the Icelandic model and the lessons  it could provide for the rest of the world.

Culturally engaged public
Public participation in cultural events is also among the highest in Iceland. In 2015 32.9% of the population attended at least four live performances, including theatre, ballet or concerts, the second highest in the OECD. Only Switzerland had a greater participation ratio, where 27% attended at least 12 live performances. 

Spending on sports and recreational activities has also been named as a reason for Icelandic successes in sports, most notably football.

Read more: Icelandic men's football team now ranked among top 20 in world by FIFA

Icelanders are also more likely to attend sports events than most other Europeans. 29.1% attended at least four sports events in 2015, the third highest ratio in Europe. The Netherlands topped the list with 29.7% having attended at least 4 events, followed by Switzerland where the ratio was 29.3%.


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