Population Projections

Using 2016 as a base and taking into account key assumptions (mortality, fertility and migration); National Records of Scotland (NRS) (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) predict that the total population of the Outer Hebrides is projected to fall to 23,127  by 2041. This is a projected decline of 14% or 3,773 people between 2016 and 2041. The equivalent figure for Scotland over the same time period is an increase of 5.3%.

Figure 1: Projected Age Distribution for the Outer Hebrides, 2016-2041


Scotland: The 2016-based projections show the total population of Scotland will increase from 5,404,700 million in 2016 to 5,693,201 million by 2041 and continue to rise into the future. Along with the projected rise in population is the projected increase in the number of people of pensionable age, which is projected to rise in all Council areas. Those of pensionable age and over is  estimated to increase by 5% over the ten year period 2016 to 2026.

Local Authority Administrative Areas: The populations of 24 of the 32 council areas in Scotland are projected to increase, with the remaining 8 set to decrease by 2026.The local authority with the sharpest projected population decline from 2016-2026 is the Outer Hebrides with a drop of -4.8%. The number of children is expected to increase in 16 of Scotland’s council areas. The population of working age is also projected to increase in 21 council areas.

Highlands and Islands: Over the period 2016 - 2026 the Outer Hebrides will see a 4.8 % decline. The Shetland Islands are expected to see an 0.2% increase; Orkney a 0.5% increase; and Highland a 1.7% increase. The table below shows the percentage change of broad age groups by key comparable areas.

Key Comparator Areas (Percentage Change between: 2016-2026)

Overall Population


Working Age

Pensionable Age & over

Aged 75 and over

Highland + 1.7%

Highland ‑5%

Highland +1%

Highland +7%

Shetland +40%

Orkney +0.5%

Orkney ‑5%

Orkney ‑1%

Shetland +7%

Orkney +40%

Shetland +0.2%

Shetland ‑5%

Shetland ‑1%

Orkney +7%

Highland +38%

Dumfries & G ‑1.5%

Argyll and Bute ‑6%

Dumfries & G ‑2%

Dumfries & G  +2%

Argyll and Bute +30%

Argyll & Bute ‑3.4%

Dumfries & G ‑7%

Argyll and Bute ‑5%

Argyll and Bute +1%

Dumfries & G +28%

Outer Hebrides ‑4.8%

Outer Hebrides ‑7%

Outer Hebrides ‑5%

Outer Hebrides -2%

Outer Hebrides +27%


Outer Hebrides: In summary, the projections indicate:

  • a 4.8% decline in population from 26,900 in 2016 to 25,616 by 2026 (a loss of 1,284), the largest percentage decline in Scotland;
  • In the Outer Hebrides the projected population decline is due to more deaths than births (negative natural change).  The Outer Hebrides is expected to have a negative natural change of -4.8% over the period 2016 to 2026 while net migration is positive at 0.4%.   Therefore, the decline in the population is due to a large negative natural change.

The key factor in population decline in the Outer Hebrides according to the projections is therefore natural change. Within this context, significant changes in the age structure of the Outer Hebrides population are also projected:

  • 0-15 yrs: Nationally, the number of children 0-15 is projected to increase by 2% by 2026.  The number of children is projected to increase in 16 of the 32 local authorities.  The largest percentage decline in this age group is in the Outer Hebrides by -7 and the largest increase in Midlothian  (+18%);
  • Working Age: The working age population is projected to increase in 12 council areas from 2016-2026 and increase nationally by 3% over the period. The Outer Hebrides  is projected to have the greatest decline in this age group at -5% The greatest increase is  Midlothian (+13%).  The working age includes the change in state pension age for a given year.
  • Pensionable Age:  The population of pensionable age (taking into account the change in state retirement age) is projected to increase by 2026 in all council areas except Glasgow City, Outer Hebrides and Dundee and will increase nationally by 5%. It is important to note that the existing age structure of the area in the base year (2016) has an impact on the age structure for future years.  In 2016 Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute and the Outer Hebrides had the highest proportions of people aged 65 and over at 26%.  East Lothian will have the highest increase by 2026 at 11%.  The Outer Hebrides is projected to see an 2% decrease in this age group from 2016 to 2026. By 2026 the Outer Hebrides is projected to have a 23% increase in those aged 75 and over.

An explanation of the projection process and assumptions used for Scotland and Local Authority Areas can be found on the NRS website (Opens in a new window or downloads a file).


Projections are trend based and therefore envisage conditions in the future based on what currently occurs.  Issues such as migration and natural change must be factored into these calculations and this brings with it considerable uncertainty.  The NRS stress the limits of projections, as a rule, the smaller the population and the further forward from the base year used, the more unreliable the projection, particularly due to the effect of migration.  Fundamentally, official projections don’t take account of policies or initiatives that can, and are sometimes specifically designed to, have an impact on populations and demographics.

Source: National Records of Scotland (NRS), 2016 based population projections.