Factfile - Population
The most recent mid-year population estimates (2011) for the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles), gives a population of 26,080. This shows an decrease of -0.4% (-110 persons) since the mid-2010 estimates. This decrease can be attributed to the negative ‘natural change’ (-118) and positive ‘net civilian migration’ (7). Deaths (345) continued to exceed births (227) over the period. The median age in the islands was estimated to be 46 years (Scottish average 41 yrs) in June 2011.
The decline in population over the last ten years (between 2001 and 2011) in the Outer Hebrides was -1.4%. Over the same period, Shetland saw an increase of 2.5%, Orkney an increase of 4.9%, while Scotland overall saw an increase of 3.8%. Figure 1 below plots the estimated population of the Outer Hebrides over the last ten years (2001-2011).
Figure 1: Estimated Population in Outer Hebrides 2001-2011
In 2011, the ‘median age in the Outer Hebrides was estimated to be 45 years for males and 47 years for females with the following age group breakdowns by sex: Males (17% under 16 years; 64% of working age; 19% of pensionable age); Females (16% under 16 years; 53% of working age; and 31% of pensionable age).
The estimated decrease in the population of the Outer Hebrides from 2010-2011 can be attributed to negative natural change (more deaths (345) than births (227) and positive net migration (more in-migration than out-migration) which was estimated to be 7. The graph below illustrates the net migration estimated for the population between June 2001 and June 2011.
Figure 2: Net Migration in the Outer Hebrides 2001 to 2011
On census night in 2001 the resident population of the Outer Hebrides was 26,502; in comparison this figure was 29,600 on census night in 1991. Thus over the period 1991 to 2001 the Outer Hebrides experienced a decline in population of -10% (the highest percentage decline of any Local Authority area in Scotland over the period). Looking back further over last century (1901-2001), the population of the Outer Hebrides has declined by 43% (46,000 in 1901), as illustrated figure 3.
Figure 3: Outer Hebrides Population recorded by the Census (1901-2001)
As figure 4 illustrates, from 1861 to 1961, the Outer Hebrides experienced the smallest population decline (%) of any of the local authority ‘island dwellers’ in Scotland (at -10%). The largest percentage decline during this 100 year period was Highland, with a -62% decline in its island population. However, from 1961-2001, the Outer Hebrides experienced the largest percentage decline of any local authority ‘with island dwellers’ at -19%. The second largest decline during this period was Argyll and Bute at -14%. During the same period, there were increases of between a fifth and a quarter in the island populations of Highland, North Ayrshire and Shetland.
Figure 4: Island Dwellers by Local Authority Area 1861-2001
Demographically, the population of the Outer Hebrides is ageing. As figure 5 illustrates, the greatest decline by age group has occurred in the 30-44 year category (from representing 20.4% of the population in 2001 to 18.3% in 2011). The greatest increase by age group has occurred in the 45-64 category (from representing 27.2% of the population in 2001 to 30.3% in 2011).
Figure 5: Age structure of the Outer Hebrides, 2001 and 2011
The continuing trend is for young adults to leave the islands for further education or employment purposes.
The situation in the Outer Hebrides is however more marked than elsewhere in Scotland. Compared to the national average, the Outer Hebrides population also has a higher percentage of individuals in the older age groups and correspondingly less in the younger age groups. In 2001 the average age of residents in the Outer Hebrides was three years older than in Scotland.
The only large town in the Outer Hebrides is Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) with approximately 5,660 people. Approximately 27% of the total population of the Outer Hebrides, nearly 7,000 people, live within the Greater Stornoway area encompassing Laxdale (Lacasdal), Sandwick (Sanndabhaig) and Newmarket. The remaining population is scattered throughout over 280 townships. Stornoway is the only settlement, which can really be described as having any 'urban' characteristics.