National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Summary of Results

Summary of Results

1. The results of this new set of projections, summarised in Table 1 and illustrated in Figure 1, show the total population of Scotland rising from 5.08 million in 2004 to 5.13 million in 2019 before falling to 5.07 million by 2031. Longer term projections for up to 40 years ahead show a continuing decline after 2031 to 4.86 million in 2044. The point at which Scotland’s population is projected to fall below 5 million is now 2036 rather than 2017. It should be stressed that the precise point at which the population reaches a particular level can be very sensitive to relatively small changes in the underlying assumptions, and should therefore be treated with caution. A key point is that despite the projected rise in the size of the population over the next 15 years Scotland’s population is still projected to age markedly.

2. Table 2 provides information on the projected components of change between 2004 and 2031. It is clear from this table that the most significant factor affecting future projected levels of the population to around 2021 is migration. This is because the natural decrease (where the number of deaths exceeds the number of births) is assumed to be offset by more migrants moving to Scotland. However, after 2021 the most significant factor affecting the level of the population is the natural decrease. 

3. In the first years of the projection, Figure 2 shows that the number of births is projected to rise very slightly before declining, levelling off in 2010 for about 6 years before continuing to decline. Despite small increases in recent years, the number of births has been falling since the early 1980s. Continued low birth rates lead to a lower number of women passing through child bearing ages in the next generation. This further contributes to lower numbers of births in the future.

4. Figure 2 also shows that the number of deaths is projected to decrease slightly, levelling off in 2008 before increasing back to the levels experienced in the early 1990s by 2031. The reason for the rise is because there will be more old people in 2031 rather than an increase in mortality rates.

5. Figure 3 illustrates that in the short-term it is assumed that there will be a net inflow of 21,000 migrants to Scotland in 2004-2005, 13,500 in 2005-2006 and 8,500 in 2006-2007 before the level drops to an assumed net inflow of 4,000 for the rest of the projection period. This reflects recent increases in the number of people migrating to Scotland, after many years when net out-migration was the norm. More detailed information on the fertility, mortality and migration assumptions leading to these results is given in section 3 and Annex A, Annex B and Annex C.

6. A summary of projected populations by broad age groups is given in Table 3; projected populations by sex and five year age groups are given in Table 6. These tables and Figure 4 show that the age structure of the population is projected to change markedly between 2004 and 2031.

7. The main changes in the age structure of Scotland’s population are:

  • the number of children aged under 16 is projected to decrease by 15 per cent from 0.94 million in 2004 to 0.79 million by 2031;
  • the number of people of working age is projected to fall by 7 per cent from 3.18 million in 2004 to 2.96 million in 2031;
  • the number of people of pensionable age is projected to rise by 35 per cent from 0.97 million in 2004 to 1.31 million in 2031;
  • the number of people aged 75 and over is projected to rise by 75 per cent from 0.37 million in 2004 to 0.65 million by 2031  (this is in part due to the baby boomers after the Second World War entering their early eighties by 2031 and the effect of improved mortality rates.) ;
  • the population of males aged 65 and over is projected to increase by just over 70 per cent by 2031, whilst for females the corresponding increase is just under 50 per cent;
  • the average age of the population is projected to rise from around 40 at the present time to just over 45 by 2031.

8. A useful summary measure of the age structure of a population is the dependency ratio - the ratio of persons aged under 16 or over pensionable age to those of working age. Table 4 shows that the dependency ratio is projected to remain around 60 per 100 from 2004 to 2021. It is only after 2021, and the completion of the change to the state pension age, that the dependency ratio rises,  to 71 per 100 working age population in 2031, and eventually to 75 in 2044.

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