Scotland’s Demographic Dilemma

Robert Wright, Katerina Lisenkova

Research output: Working paperOther working paper

180 Downloads (Pure)


In terms of population size, Scotland is a small “country” when compared to most other
countries in Europe (see Lisenkova and Wright, 2005). According to the most recent estimate,
the population of Scotland numbered just over 5.14 million in 2007. This represents about 8.5
per cent of the total population of the United Kingdom. Where Scotland differs to most highincome
countries is in the shape of the time path followed to reach this total. This is shown in
Figure 1. The figure shows the size of the Scottish population beginning in the mid-1800s.
The population of Scotland grew steadily in most of the first 100 years of this period.
However after the Second World War, the size of the population has changed little and has
hovered around the five million mark.
This pattern of “demographic stagnation” is not typical of other high-income countries. To put
the Scottish experience in a more comparative perspective, Figure 3 shows the change in
population size for selected countries/groups of countries on a comparative basis since 1950.
This is achieved by indexing population size to the common standard of 100 in 1950. The
comparators include the “high immigration” countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and
USA; the 15 countries that were member-states of the European Union (EU-15) prior to
enlargement in 2004; the eight central and eastern European countries (A-8) that joined in the
European Union in 2004; and Ireland, a country to which Scotland (rightly or wrongly) is
often compared. As the figure suggests, most of these countries experienced what can be
termed “steady” population growth in this period. The possible exception to this is Ireland,
where the population growth was concentrated in the second half of this period.
One issue that is of increasing concern in many high-income countries (including Scotland) is
that population growth in the future is expected to be negative, which will lead to population
decline. In fact (as discussed below) there are numerous countries whose populations are
already declining. The populations of these countries are also expected to “age” rapidly in the
future. Population ageing is the process by which an increasing share of the total population is
concentrated in the older age groups. It is the decrease in the number and share of “younger”
people coupled with the increase in the number and share of “older” people in the population.
It is often measured by the change in the average or median age of the population. It is
important to note that population ageing is a global issue. According to the United Nations
(2005), there are only 18 “outlier” countries, where currently population ageing is not
occurring. However, this being said, there is considerable cross-country variation in the speed
at which population ageing is expected to proceed in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameHume Occasional Paper no. 82


  • scotland
  • demographic
  • dilemma


Dive into the research topics of 'Scotland’s Demographic Dilemma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this