First results from Scotland’s Census highlight ageing population

Thursday September 14th 2023

Buchanan Galleries Glasgow

Photo credit Artur Kraft


Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

The population of Scotland was estimated to be 5,436,600 on Census Day 2022, according to new data released today by National Records of Scotland (NRS).

This is the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s Census and is part of the first set of statistics from last year’s census.

The population of Scotland grew by 141,200 (2.7%) since the previous census in 2011. This is a slower rate of growth than between 2001 and 2011, when the population grew by 233,400 (4.6%). Without migration the population of Scotland would have decreased by around 49,800 since 2011.

The other UK censuses showed higher rates of population growth than in Scotland. The population increased by 6.3% in England and Wales, and by 5.1% in Northern Ireland between 2011 and 2021.

The data also highlights Scotland’s ageing population, with over one million people aged 65 and over (1,091,000). This is over a quarter of a million higher than the number of people under 15 (832,300). The number of people in older age groups (65 plus) increased by 22.5% since 2011.

As context, results from the 1971 census show there were twice as many people under 15 than 65 plus, and in 2011, the two age groups were of a broadly similar size.

On census day there were 2,509,300 households with at least one usual resident. This is up 136,500 (5.8%) from the 2011 census. The increase in the number of households (5.8%) is higher than the increase in the population (2.7%).

We know older people are more likely to live alone or in smaller households. There is a related trend towards smaller households and more households overall.

NRS Chief Executive Janet Egdell said:

“This is an exciting milestone for Scotland’s Census and the results paint a fascinating picture of how Scotland and our communities are changing.

“Census data is vital for planning health services, education and transport and the information published through our results will help local and central government, businesses and charities to shape Scotland for years to come.”

Across Scotland, the population increased in 17 council areas between 2011 and 2022, with 10 areas seeing decreases and 5 seeing minimal change. Most of the council areas in the Central Belt saw increases in their populations, particularly those around Edinburgh. These increases were driven by migration from within Scotland and from elsewhere.

NRS will publish further results from Scotland’s Census 2022 from spring 2024 onwards. In summer 2024, a series of topic data reports will provide new and unique insights into the characteristics of Scotland’s people, including information on ethnicity, religion, the labour market, education and housing. For the first time, it will also include data on armed forces veterans, sexual orientation and trans status or history.

For more than 200 years Scotland has relied on the valuable data the census provides and it remains the best way to gather vital information about Scotland’s people that data users in the public, private and third sectors need.

The full report ‘Scotland’s Census 2022 – Rounded population estimates’ can be found on the Scotland’s Census website.

Scotland’s Census are designated as National Statistics and form an integral part of the statistical system in the UK. The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), the independent regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, awards National Statistics designation based on the quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of official statistics.

Since the census collection period in 2022, NRS has been working closely with the International Steering Group (ISG). The ISG, made up of census and statistical experts from across the world, was established to provide independent external advice on the quality of Scotland’s Census and the statistical approaches that have been used to produce high quality census outputs. Find more information about the work of the ISG and its membership.

Professor James Brown, ABS Professor of Official Statistics at University of Technology and Chair of the ISG said:

“The International Steering Group commends NRS for its systematic and robust application of the census estimation methodology that has led to today’s published estimates.”

Scottish Government Chief Statistician Alasdair McAlpine convened a small group of experienced senior analysts to review the outputs.

He has written to Janet Egdell to confirm: “The outputs will provide the robust population statistics to support the wider statistical system and that analysts and the general public can have confidence in the outputs.”

There has been a census in Scotland every 10 years since 1801, except 1941. The 2021 census in Scotland was moved to 2022 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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