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Factfile - Population

Introduction

The most recent mid-year population estimates (2016) for the Outer Hebrides gives a population of 26,900. This shows a decrease of -0.6% (-170 persons) from mid 2015 to mid 2016.

This decrease can be attributed to the negative ‘natural change’ (-107) and negative  ‘net civilian migration’ (-67). Deaths (336) continued to exceed births (229) over the period. The median age in the islands was estimated to be 48 years (Scottish average 41 yrs) in June 2016.

Over the last ten years (between 2006 and 2016) in the Outer Hebrides there has been a -0.6% (164 persons) decrease in population. Over the same period, Orkney saw an increase of 7.4%, Shetland an increase of 4.5%, while Scotland overall saw an increase of 5.3%.
Figure 1 below plots the estimated population of the Outer Hebrides over the last ten years (2006-2016).

Figure 1: Estimated Population in Outer Hebrides
Figure 1: Estimated Population in Outer Hebrides 2006-2016

In 2016, the ‘median age in the Outer Hebrides was estimated to be 47 years for males and 49 years for females with the following age group breakdowns by sex: Males (17% under 16 years; 61% of working age; 23% of pensionable age); Females (15% under 16 years; 54% of working age; and 31% of pensionable age).

The estimated decrease in the population of the Outer Hebrides from 2015-2016 can be attributed to negative natural change (more deaths (336) than births (229) and negative  net migration (more out-migration than in-migration) which was estimated to be -67. The graph below illustrates the net migration and natural change estimated for the population between June 2006 and June 2016.

Figure 2: Natural Change and Net Migration in the Outer Hebrides 20054 to 20154
Figure 2: Natural Change and Net Migration in the Outer Hebrides 2006 to 2016

Following the 2011 Census, National Records of Scotland (NRS) produced revised population estimates for 2002 to 2010. Fig 2 above illustrates the natural change and net migration in the Outer Hebrides from 2005 to 2015.

Natural change has been consistently over -100 for most years reaching  but reached its highest in 2015 at -176. However, net migration which has been positive up to 2012 has been negative since.  This highlights how important it is to have positive net migration to counteract the negative natural change.

On census night in 2011 the resident population of the Outer Hebrides was 27,684; in comparison this figure was 26,502 on census night in 2001. Thus over the period 2001 to 2011 the Outer Hebrides experienced a population increase of 4.5%, the 18th highest in Scotland, while 4 Council areas experienced a decline. Looking back further  from 1901 to 2011 the population of the Outer Hebrides has declined by 40% (46,000 in 1901).  The population change from 1901 to 2011  is illustrated in figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Outer Hebrides Population recorded by the Census (1901-2011)
Figure 3: Outer Hebrides Population recorded by the Census (1901-2011)

Demographically, the population of the Outer Hebrides is ageing. As figure 4 illustrates, the greatest decline by age group has occurred in the 30-44 year category (from representing 19.8% of the population in 2006 to 16.2% in 2016). The greatest increase by age group has occurred in the 65-74 category (from representing 10.9% of the population in 2006 to 13.3% in 2016).

Figure 4: Age structure of the Outer Hebrides, 20054 and 20154
Figure 4: Age structure of the Outer Hebrides, 2006 and 2016

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. 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 2016 the average age of residents in the Outer Hebrides was seven years older than in Scotland (48 to 41 years).

The only large town in the Outer Hebrides is Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) with approximately 6,200 people. Approximately 30% of the total population of the Outer Hebrides, around 8,000 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.