Demographic Change in Scotland

This research paper sets out current evidence relating to demogrpahy in Scotland, exploring the implications of demographic change and related policy issues, with reference to Scotland's Population Growth Purpose Target


The Scottish Demography Research Programme funded 6 projects looking at key aspects of demographic change in Scotland in the areas of ageing, fertility and migration with 2 projects funded in each area. The Research Programme followed on from a joint ESRC/Scottish Executive seminar in 2004 which presented academic research to potential users in government and the voluntary and private sectors.


The 2 projects funded examined factors contributing to the difference in fertility rates between Scotland and England, and variations in fertility rates across Scotland, within a context of historically low fertility levels in the UK and Scotland in particular.

Why is fertility in Scotland lower than in England?
Researchers: Graham, Boyle, Bouliotis (University of St Andrews), Gayle (University of Stirling) and Ermisch (University of Essex)

Scotland's fertility rate has declined steadily since the 1960s (reaching its lowest level in 2002) and, in a reversal of the previous situation, Scotland now has a lower fertility rate than England. This project used comparative analysis of data from the British Household Panel Survey for English and Scottish women (defined by place of birth) to provide an insight into the causes of low fertility in Scotland. Key findings included the following:

  • Although Scottish women have fewer children than women in England, there was no difference in fertility expectations between the 2 countries, and similar levels of childlessness.
  • Scottish women have their first birth earlier than English women, but then wait longer for their second and subsequent births. This appears to be a factor in the lower fertility rate in Scotland.
  • Fewer Scottish women have a third or fourth child.
  • Black and ethnic minority women are more likely to have 3 or more children, and these groups make up a higher proportion of the population in England than Scotland.
  • Better educated women in Scotland were significantly less likely than their English counterparts to have a third child.

Fertility variations in Scotland: actual, expected and ideal fertility
Researchers: Beckett-Milburn, Dey, Jamieson, Wasoff (University of Edinburgh), Boyle, Graham (University of St Andrews)

Fertility in Scotland has declined since the 1960s, and remains below replacement level despite increases in the number of annual births since 2002. There are, though, significant variations in the birth rate across Scotland, and this research sought to examine the factors that lead to this variation. The research was based on a module of commissioned questions in the 2005 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. Key findings include the following:

  • There is a gap between fertility ideals and actual fertility in Scotland.
  • Higher levels of education were associated with lower levels of fertility, and a bigger gap between actual fertility and fertility expectations.
  • Those in part-time work were more likely to start their families earlier and have more children.
  • Those in full-time work were more likely to think that their work progress would be affected if they had another child; those who thought their employers provided a poor fit between work and family were most likely to think their work progress would suffer if they had another child.
  • Social and environmental factors were also linked with fertility; those with a lot of friends with children and those living in areas that were perceived as a good place to bring up children were more likely to have more children; those who practised gender equality in the home were less likely to have larger families.


In relation to migration, the 2 projects concentrated on migration between Scotland and the South East of England, and migration following the completion of higher education in Scotland (focusing on Edinburgh University graduates in particular). Scotland was, historically, a country of net out-migration, but this work was carried out a time when Scotland was experiencing a period of net in-migration.

Scottish migration to, and return from, SE England
Researchers: Findlay (University of Dundee), Houston (University of Edinburgh), Mason (University of Strathclyde)

The South East of England has traditionally been a key destination for those migrating from Scotland. This research sought to investigate the drivers of migration between Scotland and the South East using data from the 2002 census and a survey of Scottish migrants to the area. Key findings included:

  • Employment opportunities were found to be the dominant reason for initially leaving Scotland for the SE of England
  • Around 60% of migrants to the South East achieve upwards mobility in the course of their careers, and Scots in the SE enjoyed greater occupational mobility than those who remain at home or those born in the SE.
  • Return migration was also common, particularly among young, university educated people. A common reason for return migration was job insecurity. Return migration was particularly likely when this was coupled with job opportunities in Scotland and family pressures.

Scottish graduate migration and retention
Researchers: Bond and Charsley (University of Edinburgh)

This research used analysis of existing data (2001 census, HESA and GROS) along with a survey of recent graduates from Edinburgh University (year 2000) to examine graduate migration from Scotland, and the factors associated with students choosing to leave or remain in Scotland after graduation. Main findings included:

  • Scotland is a net importer of students. Twenty-six per cent of students at Scottish universities come from outwith Scotland, while 8% of students from Scottish homes attend universities outwith Scotland.
  • 79% of graduates in Scottish universities were working in Scotland 6 months after graduation.
  • Those originally from Scotland were far more likely to remain in Scotland suggesting scope for improving graduation retention amongst those who came to Scotland to study. This was true 6 months after graduation (for all students) and 5 years after graduation (for Edinburgh University students).
  • The 3 main factors which influence migration decisions were: employment opportunities (with quality of work rated more highly than salary), social connections (family and friends) and expectations for the future.


The 2 projects related to population ageing examined its impact on the economy as a whole and the demographic, health and financial outcomes for older people themselves. The research was carried out at a time when figures showed the population to be shrinking as well as ageing and was projected to continue shrinking and ageing.

Macroeconomic impacts of demographic change in Scotland
Researchers: MacGregor, Swales, Wright (University of Strathclyde)

This project used modelling techniques to explore the economic impact of Scotland's changing demographic profile on the economy, drawing in particular on projections relating to the ageing population and migration. The analysis was carried out a time when Scotland's population was projected to decline, and highlighted the following:

  • The number of people of working age would continue to decrease, leading to increased competition in the employment market (especially for younger workers), higher wages, and reduced competitiveness in international markets, which in turn could affect economic growth.
  • In addition government spending would reduce in line with a lower population, and consumption of goods and services would also fall, leading to lower output and lower employment.
  • The study projected net in-migration of 20,000 per annum would be needed to maintain the population and the working age population and protect the economy. Higher wages in Scotland were not predicted to be sufficient to attract sufficient migrants from elsewhere in the UK, and questions were raised about the potential of the Fresh Talent initiative to attract enough people of working age from outwith the EU.

Scotland's ageing population: micro simulation of the baby-boomers
Researchers: Bell and Bowes (University of Stirling)

This research used micro simulation techniques to examine issues related to an ageing population, focusing in particular on care of the elderly and specifically on the Scottish policy of free personal care for the elderly. The research found that:

  • In its first 2 years of implementation the introduction of FPC had not resulted in a reduction in the level of informal care provided by family and friends of elderly people.
  • Men are more likely to believe that children should care for their parents, although women do more of the caring.
  • The belief that children should care for parents declines with age, until 65 when the numbers believing that children should care for parents rises again.
  • Baby boomers are significantly less likely than others to believe that children should care for parents, and have no wish to be a burden on their children.
  • Higher levels of education are associated with lower probability of providing direct care for a parent but a higher probability of providing financial assistance. Possible explanations for this include the higher opportunity costs and practical barriers for those on higher incomes who are more likely to live further away from their parents.
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