OBJECTIVE: To study various indicators concerning health and well-being in two Nordic countries with special attention to standards of living and mortality. DESIGN: Comparative study of the mortality rates from various causes of death during the years 1983-1992 and some indicators of standard of living derived from official reports and registers in Iceland and Sweden. SETTING, SUBJECTS: The total populations of Iceland and Sweden. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Mortality rates, indicators of living standard, gross domestic product and demographic variables such as divorces and unemployment. RESULTS: The mortality rates for all causes of death were similar for women in Iceland and Sweden during 1983-1992 but were lower for men in Iceland than in Sweden. The mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases decreased during the study period. The rates for malignant disease were higher in Iceland for both men and women. Iceland has a larger population growth but a much lower population density. Most of the demographic variables were similar in the two countries. Unemployment rates were higher in Sweden. CONCLUSION: In spite of large similarities between Iceland and Sweden in socio-demographic variables there are substantial differences in mortality rates between the countries. The causes for these mortality differences are obscure and should be further investigated.