The most recent mid-year population estimates (2020) for the Outer Hebrides gives a population of 26,500. This shows a decrease of 0.8% (220 persons) from mid 2019 to mid 2020.
This decrease can be attributed to the negative net migration (-40), but is mainly due to the negative ‘natural change’ of -172. Deaths (375) continued to exceed births (203) over the period. The median age in the islands was estimated to be 49.9 years (Scottish average 42.1 yrs) in June 2020.Over the last ten years (between 2010 and 2020) in the Outer Hebrides there has been a decrease of 1,100 persons (-4.0%). Over the same period, Orkney saw an increase of 5.6%, Shetland a decrease of 0.8%, while Scotland overall saw an increase of 3.9%. Figure 1 below plots the estimated population of the Outer Hebrides over the last ten years (2010-2020).
Figure 1: Estimated Population in Outer Hebrides 2010-2020
The estimated decrease in the population of the Outer Hebrides from 2019-2020 can be attributed to negative net migration (more out-migration than in-migration) which was estimated to be -40 but is mainly due to negative ‘natural change’. The graph below illustrates the net migration and natural change estimated for the population between June 2010 and June 2020.
Figure 2: Natural Change and Net Migration in the Outer Hebrides 2010 to 2020
Natural change has been consistently over -100 for most years but was greatest in 2015 at -176. This highlights how important it is to have positive net migration to counteract the negative natural change
Figure 3: Age structure of the Outer Hebrides and Islands, 2020
Demographically, the population of the Outer Hebrides is ageing. 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 2020, over 1 in 4 persons (26%) is aged 65 and over.
As illustrated in the chart above the population of the Outer Hebrides continues to have an uneven age profile. This reflects the falling birth rate and ageing population. A higher percentage of the population are of ‘pensionable age’ (Outer Hebrides 25%, Scotland 19%) and a lower percentage are of ‘working age’ (Outer Hebrides 59%, Scotland 64%).
27% of females in the Outer Hebrides are of pensionable age in comparison to 20% in Scotland and 23% of men in the Outer Hebrides are of pensionable age in comparison to 17% in Scotland. This is the highest equal in Scotland for women and the second equal highest percentage for men.
Figure 4: Outer Hebrides Population recorded by the Census (1901-2011)
The only large town in the Outer Hebrides is Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) with approximately 6,953 people in the Stornoway settlement 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.