National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future



The aim of this paper was to establish if Scotland’s household composition is different from the rest of the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe. In many previous research projects to determine where the UK lies in relation to the rest of Europe, Scotland and Northern Ireland have either not been included - with only the data from England and Wales - or have been included in UK figures dominated by data from England and Wales. Yet a comparison of Scotland’s census data to similar data obtained from the other UK censuses suggests that, although the general household trends found in Scotland are similar to the rest of the UK and Europe, there are some crucial differences.

Scotland has seen an above average rise of 11 percentage points in single person households as a proportion of all households over the period 1981-2001, compared to increases of 8 and 9 percentage points for England and Wales, respectively. As a result, Scotland has the highest proportion of single person households in the UK and Europe. It may be that divorce and separation of cohabiting couples is a major cause. Scottish census household composition tables indicate that, the above-average increase in single person households is a result of a large increase in the proportion of single person households which consist of a person of retirement age or older living alone.

Scotland has shown a sharp decrease in the total fertility rate from approximately 1.75 in 1981 to 1.47 in 2001. However, this is close to the European average of 1.46.

The most severe reduction is in the proportion of married couple families in Scotland, which halved between 1981 and 2001 – a much greater decrease than in the rest of the UK or Ireland.

The proportion of lone-parent families in Scotland increased between 1981 and 1991 before increasing only slightly over the period 1991-2001. Northern Ireland had by far the highest proportion of lone-parent households in the UK in both 1991 and 2001.

All UK countries have shown a sharp decline between 1991 and 2001 in the proportion of all households represented by adult couple only households.

This research has gone some way to establish where Scotland lies in relation to the rest of the UK. However, great difficulties were found when trying to determine Scotland’s place in Europe. There are few comparable data sources available on household composition trends in the various European countries over the last 20 years. Initiatives such as the European Community Household Panel have been taken over the last few years to address this issue. However, access to this data is very limited and, until detailed and comparable data about the various household composition groups of the different European countries can be made widely available, a true comparison between Scotland and the rest of Europe cannot be made.