Key Points

  • Scotland’s population has grown substantially over the centuries, and while it has never been larger, it has lagged behind population growth in other countries, and notably those in the rest of these islands.
  • Scotland’s population is now older than it has ever been, not simply because people live longer but because the proportion of children and young people is smaller than it has ever been, something which has implications for the labour force, the housing stock, and public services.
  • Longevity is partly the result of improved health and social conditions, notably in Scotland’s cities and principal towns, but that the major influence on the rate of ‘natural increase’ is the fall in the birth rate rather than the death rate.
  • The distinguishing feature of Scotland’s demography has been the longstanding patterns of migration. Historically, Scotland is a land of emigrants rather than immigrants, and its population stability has reflected its export of people, whether to England or overseas. Only since the 1990s, have more people come to Scotland than have left it.
  • Finally, population size matters. There is little doubt that Scotland’s growing population is taken as a measure of its prosperity and economic growth, even though Scots consume far more of the planet’s wealth and resources than our population share.