The Changing Demographics of Scotland


RTPI Director Craig McLaren summarises trends in population statistics published by National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland have published Scotland’s Population: The Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends.  It is the 162nd edition of the Registrar General’s Annual Review, and still remains an extremely useful statistical source.  It is an interesting read for planners looking to manage the demands of an increasing population across the country.  So what are the key trends?

A Growing Population?

Scotland’s population in 2016 was 5.4 million people, its highest level recorded.  The majority of this growth has been due to migration so it will be interesting to see if Brexit will have an impact on future population growth or decline.  Nevertheless, NRS projections are that Scotland’s population is to increase, with growth to occur particularly in the older age groups.

More Households

The report outlines how in 2016 there were 2.45 million households and 2.58 million dwellings in Scotland.  The number of households has grown by around 157,000 over the past 10 years, a rise of 7%, which was faster than the increase in population.  This is due to the fact that people are increasingly living alone or in smaller households. Indeed one person households have become the most common type in recent years.

It is projected that the number of households in Scotland will grow further, to 2.76 million by 2039, an average annual increase of around 13,800 between the years 2014 and 2039.

The number of households is projected to increase in almost every council area over the 25-year period from 2014 to 2039, with the largest percentage increases predicted in Orkney Islands (13.3%) and Highland (11.9%). The City of Edinburgh is projected to have the largest increase in terms of absolute numbers with a predicted new 18,200 households.

Smaller Households

Over the last ten years the average household size in Scotland fell from 2.20 people per household in 2006 to 2.16 people per household in 2016. Household size is projected to fall further to 2.01 people per household by 2039. The report projects that 24% of people aged 16 or over are projected to live alone in 2039, compared to 20% in 2014. The numbers of households containing two adults only and one adult with children are also projected to rise. In contrast, numbers of larger households are projected to fall.

An Ageing Population

NRS predicts an increase of 28% in the number pensioners in Scotland in the next 25 years.  This is compared to 33% for the UK as whole. It is also projected that the number of people of working age will increase by only 1% in Scotland, which is quite different from the predicted 11% across the UK as whole.

It is projected that by 2039 that there will be 484,800 people aged 65 and over living alone, an increase of 45% compared to 2014. However the projected increase in people who are 85 living alone over this period is 139%.

The report also contains an ‘invited chapter’ written by Prof Elspeth Graham, Dr Francesca Fiori and Dr Kim McKee discussing the relationship between changes in household composition and housing provision in Scotland. Well worth a read.

There is also a handy infographic version of the report which sets out the findings in a very accessible way.


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