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News Release

Registrar General Reflects on Scotland’s Population Changes

At only 18,700 short of its highest-ever point, Scotland’s mid-2010 population of 5,222,100 has bucked the anticipated trend, mainly due to migration. 

Publishing the ‘Scotland’s Population 2010 – the Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends’, Duncan Macniven, who retires as Registrar General today, commented: 

“When I was appointed Registrar General in 2003, Scotland’s population was estimated to be 5,054,800 and had been slowly reducing since 1974 when it reached 5,240,800, the highest-ever recorded figure. Trends suggested the decline would continue and the population would fall to below 5,000,000 by 2010.

“But over the past eight years, the number of people coming to Scotland has been higher than the number leaving, by an average of 22,800 per year. This has boosted the population by more than three per cent to 5,222,100 by mid-2010.

“Around half of those moving to Scotland came from within the UK. Of the other 50 per cent, who came from Europe and further afield, approximately one quarter were British citizens returning home.  

“The number of deaths has reduced by 4,500 in the last 10 years while the number of births rose by 6,400. This represents a dramatic alteration in the ‘natural change’ which, instead of reducing the population by 6,000 (as in 2003), increased the population by 5,000 in 2010. 

“Significant reductions in the number of deaths from heart disease, down by almost one third, and strokes, down by more than one quarter, are well documented. More surprising has been the increase in the number of births – up by 12 per cent in the past eight years. 

“While some of the increase can be attributed to children born of mothers from the former East European states joining the EU in 2004, the vast majority were babies born to Scottish mothers. 

“A steady improvement to life expectancy since 2003 – by a year for girls and more than a year for boys – is cause for celebration, but there has been little progress on two other major counts. 

“Men living in more affluent areas are expected to live seven years longer than those in poorer areas – the equivalent figure is 5.6 years for women. Life expectancy at birth for Scottish men is one year lower than the European average – and for women it remains almost two years lower. There has been little change in these figures in the seven years since 2003.”

Key points in the publication include:-


The estimated population of Scotland on 30 June 2010 was 5,222,100.

The population of Scotland grew by around 28,100 in the 12 months between                           1 July 2009 and 30 June 2010, an increase of 0.5 per cent.

The increase in the population in the 12 months between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2010 was mainly due to:

  • 24,968 more people coming to Scotland than leaving; and
  • 5,188 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 5.22 million in 2010. That increase has mainly been the result of more people moving to Scotland than leaving.

Changes in the population vary across Scotland. In the 10 years from 2000 to 2010, the council areas which had the highest population increases and reductions were as follows.

  • West Lothian – up 10 per cent
  • Perth and Kinross – up nine per cent
  • Inverclyde – down six per cent

Current projections (estimates for future years largely based on past trends) suggest that the population of Scotland will rise to 5.54 million by 2033 and that the population will age significantly, with the number of people aged 60 and over increasing by 50 per cent, from 1.17 million to 1.75 million.


There were 58,791 births registered in Scotland in 2010.

There were 255 (0.4 per cent) fewer births in 2010 than in 2009. This is the second 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 29.6 in 2010. Similarly, the average age of fathers has increased from 30.0 in 1991 to 32.4 in 2010.

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, 5.3 per cent of births were registered in just the mother’s name – the lowest percentage since 1981.

86 per cent of mothers who gave birth in Scotland in 2010 were born in the UK, including 76 per cent who were born in Scotland. 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 14 per cent of births in 2010 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 53,967 deaths registered in Scotland in 2010.

This was 111 (0.2 per cent) more than in 2009 and was the second lowest number of deaths since 1855 (when civil registration was introduced).

The main causes of deaths were:

  • cancer, which caused 15,323 deaths (28 per cent of all deaths);
  • ischaemic (coronary) heart disease, which caused 8,138 deaths (15 per cent of all deaths);
  • respiratory system diseases (such as pneumonia), which caused 6,896 deaths (13 per cent of all deaths); and
  • cerebrovascular disease (stroke), which caused 4,764 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 15 per cent in 2010, but the percentage of deaths caused by cancer has risen from 22 per cent to 28 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 291 stillbirths and 218 infant deaths in 2010. 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 4.9 in 2010. The infant death rate fell from 19.9 for every 1,000 live births in 1971 to 3.7 in 2010.

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 75.8 years for men and 80.3 years for women born around 2009.

Despite recent improvements, Scottish men and women have poor life expectancy compared with most of the EU – about four years lower for men and almost five 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 2010, the number of people moving to Scotland from other parts of the UK, and the number of people moving out of Scotland to other parts of the UK were as follows.

  • 47,000 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK.
  • 43,500 people left Scotland for other parts of the UK.

This movement of people increased the population by around 3,500 people.

In the year to 30 June 2010, the number of people moving to Scotland from overseas and the number of people moving out of Scotland to go overseas were as follows.

  • 46,100 people came to Scotland from overseas.
  • 24,600 people left Scotland to go overseas.

This movement of people increased the population by around 21,500 people – the highest since current records began in 1991-92.

Most people moving to and from Scotland are young – between 16 and 34. As a result of people moving to and from the rest of the UK, Scotland’s population was boosted for every broad age group. Moves to and from overseas countries meant that the numbers of people in every age group up to 35 increased.

Marriages and civil partnerships

There were 28,480 marriages in Scotland in 2010. This includes 6,799 marriages (24 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 32.5 years for men and 30.7 years for women.

Just over half of all marriages (51 per cent) were civil ceremonies, carried out by a registrar – compared with just under one-third (31 per cent) in 1971. Just under 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 (6,005), with clergy from the Roman Catholic Church carrying out 1,776 marriages. Celebrants from the Humanist Society of Scotland, authorised to carry out marriages since 2005, officiated at 2,092 marriages.

In 2010 there were 465 civil partnerships – 197 male couples and 268 female couples.

In 2010, there were 10,034 divorces and 34 dissolutions of civil partnerships (when a civil partnership is ended) in Scotland.


In 2010, there were 466 adoptions recorded in Scotland, 11 more than in 2009. 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 2010, there were 2.36 million households in Scotland – around 315,000 more than in 1991.

The number of households has been increasing steadily, but this growth has slowed over the last three years. Between 2009 and 2010, the increase in the number of households (12,100) was lower than in the last five years.

Projections suggest that by 2033 the number of households in Scotland will increase to 2.8 million, which is an average of 19,300 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. The increase in the population is a small factor.

Across Scotland in 2010, 2.8 per cent of homes were empty and 1.4 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.

Scotland’s census as a research resource

Scotland’s census is an important research resource which is being used by the new Centre for Population Change.

The ability to compare one census with another and link the information to other sources helps to understand changes to Scotland’s population, economy and society.

Three of the centre’s recent research projects have reached the following conclusions.

  • When comparing Scotland with England and Wales, differences in the way that people rate their health in a census can be explained by differences in economic circumstances, whereas differences in death rates cannot entirely be explained in this way. The unexplained higher death rates in Scotland have been called the ‘Scottish effect’.
  • People who leave Scotland, and then return, help to increase economic growth and the size of the population in Scotland since they tend to be younger, better qualified and more likely to be in work than the general Scottish population and are likely to be in better jobs.  Leaving, even for a short period, and later returning to Scotland appears to be beneficial for those involved, as they are more likely to return to better jobs than those who stay in Scotland.
  • Creating communities where there is a mix of owner-occupied and council or housing-association housing does not appear to affect the employment prospects of the people living there.

Page last updated: 2 August 2011

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