National Records of Scotland

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Small shift from the cities for Scotland’s population

Small shift from the cities for Scotland’s population

Thursday, 1 Sep 2022
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A study of almost 7,000 small geographic areas in Scotland has revealed more detail about population changes during the pandemic. 

In July NRS revealed that in the year to the middle of 2021, Scotland’s largest cities saw their populations fall while some rural areas saw their populations rise, reversing long-term trends.

Its new report, Small Area Population Estimates Mid-2021, looks beneath local authority level at thousands of “data zones” to uncover more detail. The report includes analysis using the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural classification.  

Over the last year, the number of people living in large urban areas has fallen by 5,600 (-0.3%). This marks a change from previous years. In contrast, the populations of rural areas, small towns, and other urban areas have either increased or fallen more slowly than the previous year. In particular, accessible and remote rural areas had the largest increases over the last year, increasing by 13,200 (2.0%) and 4,700 (1.6%), respectively.

Most people still live in large urban areas (38%) and other urban areas (34%). 

NRS statistician Esther Roughsedge said: 

“The population of small geographical areas changes over time for many reasons, including births and deaths as well as migration inwards and outwards.” 
“Every council area has pockets of population growth and decline. In the latest year, the largest proportions of data zones increasing in population were mainly in rural and island council areas. This is quite different to the patterns we saw the previous year.”

The publication Mid-2021 Small Area Population Estimates Scotland is available to download.

NRS has also created an interactive visualisation tool for quick access to data on individual data zones around Scotland, and an interactive map to view how the population varies across Scotland. 


Data zones are a set of small areas that cover the whole of Scotland, and can be used to understand the population of local communities. In mid-2021, the average data zone population in Scotland was 786 people. 

Media enquiries should be directed to:
    Donna Green 
    NRS Communications
    Tel: 07775-027-380
    Email: [email protected]

Further information about the statistics is available from:
    NRS Customer Services
    Email: [email protected]