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Scotland's Population Highest Ever

2nd August 2012

After nine years of continuous growth, Scotland's population in mid-2011 reached 5,254,800 - the highest ever. These figures, based on 2001 Census data, show a rise of 190,600 people over that period. There are around 200,000 more people in Scotland than in 2002, when the population was at its lowest level in recent times.

Publishing his annual report "Scotland's Population 2011 - the Registrar General's Annual Review of Demographic Trends", Registrar General George MacKenzie said today: Scotland's population has seen a continuous increase in recent years, partly because there have been more births than deaths, but mainly because more people have moved to Scotland than have left. This trend continued in 2011, with migration largely responsible for an increase of 0.6 per cent in the population. At 5,254,800 the population is now the highest ever recorded, 14,000 higher than the previous high in 1974.

Over the last ten years the population increased by over 190,600 (3.8 per cent), from 5.06 million to 5.25 million. The ageing of the population is evident from the decrease in population aged under 16 (-6 per cent) and the increase of those aged 45-59 (+13 per cent), those aged 60-74 (+15 per cent) and those aged over 75 (+15 per cent).

Through the late 1970s and the 1980s, net out-migration was higher than the natural increase, causing the population to decline. In recent years the trend in natural change has reversed and Scotland has experienced record levels of net in-migration resulting in small increases in the population over each of the last nine years.

"Behind this headline figure, the pattern of population change is more complex. The population in some areas of Scotland has decreased. Although births still outnumber deaths, there were fewer births than in 2010. In 2011, the number of deaths in Scotland dropped to 53,661, the lowest annual total since registration began in 1855. But life expectancy is still lower than in many other European Union countries.

"Despite this, the number of older people has increased and this has contributed to a rise in the number of households. This is likely to continue, with an anticipated increase of 63 per cent in the number of people aged 65 or over by 2035.

"In the 12 months between July 2010 and June 2011, around 43,700 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK and a similar number from overseas. Most migrants to Scotland are young, aged between 16 and 34.

"Of the 29,135 marriages registered in Scotland last year, nearly a quarter were for couples where neither the bride nor groom lived in Scotland. Just under a half of marriages were religious marriages and over a half were civil ceremonies carried out by a registrar. There were also 554 civil partnerships last year - an increase of 89 from 2010."

Historically, Scotland has been a country of net out-migration, with more people leaving to live elsewhere than moving to live in Scotland. However, since the 1960s, net out-migration has greatly reduced and, in some years during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scotland experienced net migration gains. As Figure 5.1 shows, Scotland has now entered a period of net in-migration. Over the last eight years, there have been net gains of at least 19,000 per year. In 2010-11 the net migration gain was 27,000, the highest since these estimates started in 1951.

Key points in the publication include:-


The estimated population of Scotland on 30 June 2011 was 5,254,800 (based on the 2001 census), the highest ever.

The population of Scotland increased by around 32,700 in the 12 months between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011, an increase of 0.6 per cent.

The increase in the population in the 12 months between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011 was mainly due to:

27,000 more people coming to Scotland than leaving; and
4,809 more births than deaths.
The age of the population of Scotland was as follows:

17 per cent of people were aged under 16
66 per cent of people were aged 16 to 64
17 per cent of people were aged 65 and over.
Scotland's population has been fairly stable over the past 50 years. It peaked at 5.24 million in 1974 before falling to 5.05 million in 2002. It then increased each year to reach 5.25 million in 2011. That increase is mainly due to more people moving to Scotland than leaving.

Changes in the population vary across Scotland. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2011, the council areas with the highest population increases and reductions were as follows:

Perth & Kinross - up 11 per cent
Edinburgh - up 10 per cent
Inverclyde - down 6 per cent.
Current projections (estimates for future years largely based on past trends) suggest that the population of Scotland will rise to 5.76 million by 2035 and that the population will age significantly, with the number of people aged 65 and over increasing by 63 per cent, from 0.88 million to 1.43 million.


There were 58,590 births registered in Scotland in 2011.

There were 201 (0.3 per cent) fewer births in 2011 than in 2010. This is the third year the number of births has fallen (following increases in each of the previous six years).

The average age of mothers has increased from 27.4 in 1991 to 29.7 in 2011. Similarly, the average age of fathers has increased from 30.0 in 1991 to 32.4 in 2011.

The percentage of babies born to unmarried couples rose steadily from the 1970s until 2008. In 2010 it was slightly more than 50 per cent for Scotland as a whole, the same level as in the previous two years. Most births are registered by both parents. In 2010 and 2011, 5.3 per cent of births were registered in just the mother's name - the lowest percentage since 1981.

Some 86 per cent of mothers who gave birth in Scotland in 2011 were born in the UK, including 76 per cent who were born in Scotland. Some six per cent of mothers had been born elsewhere in the European Union (EU), including four per cent from the countries which joined the EU in 2004 (such as Poland).

For 15 per cent of births in 2011, neither parent was born in Scotland (compared with nine per cent in 2003) and for nine per cent of births, neither parent was born in the UK (compared with three per cent in 2003).


There were 53,661 deaths registered in Scotland in 2011.

This was 306 (0.6 per cent) fewer than in 2010 and was the lowest number of deaths recorded since 1855, when civil registration was introduced.

The main causes of deaths were:

cancer, which caused 15,457 deaths (29 per cent of all deaths);
ischaemic (coronary) heart disease, which caused 7,636 deaths (14 per cent of all deaths);
respiratory system diseases (such as pneumonia), which caused 6,749 deaths (13 per cent of all deaths); and
cerebrovascular disease (stroke), which caused 4,594 deaths (nine per cent of all deaths).
The percentage of deaths caused by coronary heart disease has fallen from 29 per cent in 1980-1982 to 14 per cent in 2011, but the percentage of deaths caused by cancer has risen from 22 per cent to 29 per cent.

Death rates from cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke in Scotland are well above the rates for the other countries in the UK.

There were 299 stillbirths and 238 infant deaths in 2011. Death rates for both have improved significantly. The rate of stillbirths has dropped from 13.1 for every 1,000 births (live births and stillbirths) in 1971 to 5.1 in 2011. The infant death rate fell from 19.9 for every 1,000 live births in 1971, to 4.1 in 2011.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy in Scotland has improved greatly over the last 25 years, increasing from 69.1 years for men and 75.3 years for women born around 1981, to 76.1 years for men and 80.6 years for women born around 2010.

Despite recent improvements, Scottish men and women have poor life expectancy compared with most of the EU - 3.6 years lower for men and 4.7 years lower for women compared with the countries where life expectancy is highest.

Migration (people moving into and out of the country)

In the last half of the 20th century, more people tended to leave Scotland than move here. However, since 2002, this has changed.

In the year to 30 June 2011, the number of people moving to Scotland from other parts of the UK, and the number moving out of Scotland to other parts of the UK were as follows:

43,700 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK
40,800 people left Scotland for other parts of the UK.
This movement of people increased the population by around 2,900 people, lower than the increase in the two previous years.

In the year to 30 June 2011, the number of people moving to Scotland from overseas and the number moving out of Scotland to go overseas were as follows:

42,300 people came to Scotland from overseas
16,900 people left Scotland to go overseas.
This movement of people increased the population by around 25,400 - the highest since current records began in 1991-92.

Most people moving to and from Scotland are young - between 16 and 34, with smaller peaks for children under five moving to and from Scotland.

Marriages and civil partnerships

There were 29,135 marriages in Scotland in 2011. This includes 6,829 marriages (23 per cent) where neither the bride nor groom lived in Scotland, but does not include people living in Scotland who marry elsewhere.

The average age at which people marry for the first time has increased by around two years in the last 10 years, to 32.6 years for men and 30.9 years for women.

Just over half of all marriages (52 per cent) were civil ceremonies, carried out by a registrar - compared with just under one-third (31 per cent) in 1971. Just over half of these civil ceremonies took place in registration offices, with the rest taking place in approved places.

Most religious marriages were carried out by Church of Scotland ministers (5,557), with clergy from the Roman Catholic Church carrying out 1,729 marriages. Celebrants from the Humanist Society of Scotland, authorised to carry out marriages since 2005, officiated at 2,486 marriages, compared with 2,092 in 2010.

In 2011 there were 554 civil partnerships - 227 male couples and 327 female couples.

In 2011, there were 9,862 divorces and 44 civil partnerships were dissolved (legally ended) in Scotland.


In 2011, there were 496 adoptions recorded in Scotland, 30 more than in 2010. The number of adoptions each year is around a quarter of what it used to be in the early 1970s.

Households and housing

In the middle of 2011, there were 2.37 million households in Scotland - around 173,000 more than in 2001.

The number of households has been increasing steadily, but this growth has slowed over the last four years. Between 2010 and 2011, the increase in the number of households (10,600) was lower than in the last 10 years.

Projections suggest that by 2035 the number of households in Scotland will increase to 2.89 million, which is an average of 21,230 extra households each year.

Most of that expected increase in the number of households is the result of an ageing population, and more people living alone or in smaller households, rather than an increase in the population.

Across Scotland in 2010, 2.8 per cent of homes were empty and 1.5 per cent were second homes, though there are wide differences across the country. There are more empty homes in more deprived areas, and more second homes in the remote rural areas.

Statutory registration

Since 1855, by law all births, deaths and marriages (and now civil partnerships) must be registered. The local authorities are responsible for providing the registration service under the supervision of the Registrar General.

There are currently three district examiners who are responsible for checking the accuracy all of the 150,000 records created each year.

Every year since 2007, registrars in the 32 councils have achieved a high rate of accuracy, with an average of over 97 per cent of the records they create having no mistakes in them.

Beyond 2011: future options for collecting information about the population

The Annual Review also contains an invited chapter from Professor David Martin of Southampton University which describes strategies adopted by other countries for collecting data about the population, using methods other than a traditional census. International experience suggests that a move to an alternative non-census approach may take several decades.

Related information:

Chapters 1 to 9 explain how Scotland's population changed in 2010. Chapter 10 gives some background information on Statutory Registration in Scotland and the role NRS has in this. Chapter 11, an invited chapter written by Professor Martin of Southampton University explores the options to the decennial census.
The population figures for 2011 and earlier years are estimates based on the 2001 census. These may be revised in the light of the 2011 census results.
Official statistics are produced by professionally independent statistical staff. National Records of Scotland's statistics can be accessed here.
Information about deaths from certain causes - such as suicides, alcohol-related deaths and deaths from clostridium difficile and MRSA - is also published on the NRS website at the same time as the Registrar General's Annual Review.

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