Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


Registrar General’s Review of Scotland’s Population

In the late 1850s, the average Scot would have been called John Smith, with a one in seven chance of dying before his first birthday and a life expectancy of 40. Today, a typical Scot might be called Lewis Brown with only a one in 200 chance of dying before his first birthday and a life expectancy of 74.

These were some snippets published today in the Registrar General’s 150th annual report. The reports have been looking at demographic trends affecting Scotland’s population since Victorian times.

Speaking at the launch of the 2004 Review of Demographic Trends, The Registrar General for Scotland, Duncan Macniven, said:

“My report shows that Scotland’s population rose slightly last year – by 21,000, to 5,078,400. As in recent years, the number of deaths in 2004 exceeded the number of births, by over 2,000. However, the gap was much narrower than in previous years, due to a 1,525 (2.9 per cent) increase in births compared with 2003. Deaths fell, by 2,285 (3.9 per cent), to the lowest annual total since civil registration started in 1855.

“It was migration which closed the gap. In the year to mid-2004, 26,000 more people moved to Scotland, from within the UK and from across the world, than moved away.

“So, it was a rosier picture in 2004 on all three factors affecting Scotland’s population – births, deaths and migration. Nonetheless, my report shows that fertility rates remain lower than the rest of the UK and our death rate is much higher.

“And we continue to have an ageing population. Since 1994, the number of children under 15 has decreased by nine per cent and the number of people aged 75 and over has increased by 16 per cent. That trend is likely to continue.

“The report also shows 2004 had the highest number of marriages since 1993. In 2004, there over 32,000 marriages in Scotland. This was due to an increase in tourism marriages where neither bride nor groom was a Scottish resident.

“In 2004, more people took advantage of the change in the law which allows civil marriages at any suitable place (not only in registration offices) with 19 per cent of all weddings falling into this new category, compared to 11 per cent during 2003.

“Scotland today is a very different place from Scotland in the mid-1850s. The total population, in 1851 Census, was 2.89 million compared with 5.08 million in 2004. Over 93,000 babies were born in 1855, compared to only 54,000 in 2004. Since 1855, the death rate has fallen from 24 people per 1000 population to 11 people in 2004. This was due, in part, to the ending of the epidemics of smallpox, whooping cough and measles which were of great concern to the Registrar General in 1855. In 1855, there were only 19,680 marriages compared to 32,154 in 2004.”

Other key points in the report (historical information in italics) are:-


Scotland’s population rose by 21,000 in the year to 30 June 2004 to 5,078,400.

Each year since 1997, there has been a natural decrease (more deaths than births), and in the year to 30 June 2004, it was 4,000.

In 2004, migrants boosted the population by a net 26,000: 15,500 from the rest of the UK, 11,700 from the rest of the world, and an adjustment for unmeasured migration of -1,500. In-migrants from the rest of the UK exceeded out-migrants in every age group.

Current projections suggest that Scotland’s population will fall below five million in 2017, reaching 4.88 million in 2028 – with drop of 18 per cent in under-16s and an increase of 60 per cent in over-75s.

Over the past 140 years, Scotland’s share of the population of the UK (as currently constituted) fell from 12.5 per cent in 1861 to 8.6 per cent in 2001.

Scotland’s population has increased by 70 per cent since civil registration began in 1855, mainly before 1911, despite emigration in that period of almost one million Scots.

In 1861 almost three-quarters of people born outside Scotland were born in Ireland, but in 2001 less than a tenth were.

People born outside the British Isles were most likely to have been born in (the rest of) Europe and America in 1901 and, in 2001, in Asia and Europe.

The number of Gaelic speakers fell by three-quarters in the last 100 years.

Housing standards have improved: there were almost 2 people per room in 1861 but less than half a person per room in 2001.


There were 53,957 births in 2004, 1,525 more than in 2003 but half the number in the early 1960s. It is too soon to say whether this second successive annual increase represents a turning point in the decline experienced up to 2002.

In the mid 19th century there were around 35 births per year per 1,000 population; by the end of the 20th century this rate was around 10.


There were 56,187 deaths in 2004 – 2,285 fewer than in 2003 and the lowest since civil registration started in 1855.

There were 5.8 stillbirths per 1,000 births (live and still) in 2004, a substantial reduction from 13.1 per 1,000 in 1971, but a slight increase from 2003.

Around one in seven children died in the first year of life in the second half of the 19th century, compared to around one in 200 in 2004.

In 2004, the two most common causes of death were cancer (27 per cent of deaths) and ischaemic heart disease (19 per cent).

There were 606 deaths classified as suicide (“intentional self-harm”) in 2004, 46 more than in 2003.

A male baby born in 2004 could expect to live for 74.2 years and a female baby for 79.3 years – increases from 67.3 and 73.7 compared to those born in 1971.

Expectation of life at birth for females has risen by 35 years since the mid 19th century. It has consistently been higher than for males but the gap has been decreasing recently.

The number of centenarians (registered as such at death) remained at about 20 in the 50 years to 1960, since when it has risen to almost 300.


There were 32,154 marriages in 2004 – the highest figure since 1993.

2004 was the second full year in which civil marriages could be conducted in ‘approved places’ outside registration offices. 5,974 civil ceremonies (19 per cent of all marriages and 38 per cent of civil marriages) were conducted in approved places – a rise of 72 per cent from 2003.

In 2004, Gretna was the location of more than one in six marriages in Scotland.

The annual number of marriages registered rose from around 20,000 in 1855 to a peak of over 53,000 in 1940.

In 1861, 32 per cent of men in their twenties were married and this percentage had risen 100 years later to 49 per cent, falling to 14 per cent in 2001. The rates for women aged 20-29 were similar but higher, with 66 per cent married in 1961.

When civil marriages were introduced in 1940, they made up around a tenth of all marriages; in 2004, half of marriages were civil ceremonies.

In the late 1850s, “average Scots”

were called John Smith or Mary Macdonald
had a one in seven chance of dying before their first birthday
lived almost two to a room, with a one in three chance of sharing the room with the whole family
got married at 27 (John) and 25 (Mary)
had a one in three chance of being married in their 20s
had a life expectancy at birth of 40 (John) and 44 (Mary)
At the end of the 20th Century, “average Scots”

were called Lewis Brown or Emma Smith
had a one in 200 chance of dying before their first birthday
each had two rooms to live in
got married at 32 (Lewis) and 29 (Emma)
had a one in seven chance of being married in their 20s
had a life expectancy at birth of 74 (Lewis) or 79 (Emma)
The Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends (ISBN 1 87 4451 737) is available from the General Register Office for Scotland and the GROS website ( Further detailed statistical tables are available on the GROS website or by contacting GROS Customer Services.

Source-Scottish Executive

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