Scotland’s Demographic Dilemma

Wright, Robert and Lisenkova, Katerina (2009) Scotland’s Demographic Dilemma. Other. David Hume Institute, Edinburgh.

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    In terms of population size, Scotland is a small “country” when compared to most other countries in Europe (see Lisenkova and Wright, 2005). According to the most recent estimate, the population of Scotland numbered just over 5.14 million in 2007. This represents about 8.5 per cent of the total population of the United Kingdom. Where Scotland differs to most highincome countries is in the shape of the time path followed to reach this total. This is shown in Figure 1. The figure shows the size of the Scottish population beginning in the mid-1800s. The population of Scotland grew steadily in most of the first 100 years of this period. However after the Second World War, the size of the population has changed little and has hovered around the five million mark. This pattern of “demographic stagnation” is not typical of other high-income countries. To put the Scottish experience in a more comparative perspective, Figure 3 shows the change in population size for selected countries/groups of countries on a comparative basis since 1950. This is achieved by indexing population size to the common standard of 100 in 1950. The comparators include the “high immigration” countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA; the 15 countries that were member-states of the European Union (EU-15) prior to enlargement in 2004; the eight central and eastern European countries (A-8) that joined in the European Union in 2004; and Ireland, a country to which Scotland (rightly or wrongly) is often compared. As the figure suggests, most of these countries experienced what can be termed “steady” population growth in this period. The possible exception to this is Ireland, where the population growth was concentrated in the second half of this period. One issue that is of increasing concern in many high-income countries (including Scotland) is that population growth in the future is expected to be negative, which will lead to population decline. In fact (as discussed below) there are numerous countries whose populations are already declining. The populations of these countries are also expected to “age” rapidly in the future. Population ageing is the process by which an increasing share of the total population is concentrated in the older age groups. It is the decrease in the number and share of “younger” people coupled with the increase in the number and share of “older” people in the population. It is often measured by the change in the average or median age of the population. It is important to note that population ageing is a global issue. According to the United Nations (2005), there are only 18 “outlier” countries, where currently population ageing is not occurring. However, this being said, there is considerable cross-country variation in the speed at which population ageing is expected to proceed in the future.