The history of Scotland’s population

I recently had to write an essay for university about changes in Scotland’s population since 1945. While I was writing that I happened, almost by chance, upon The Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends 2004.

What’s so special about 2004? It was the 150th anniversary of civil registration (which began in 1855, in case your arithmetic isn’t too hot). So the Registrar General took the opportunity to delve into the statistics and produce lots of interesting analysis on this historical trends of Scotland’s population as far back as records go.

While I should have been writing my essay, I found myself perusing the graphs. I’m that sort of person. Obsessed with graphs. I’ll share a few of the most interesting ones with you.

Sorry about the illegibility of some of these. I have to confess that I am stealing the Registrar General’s bandwidth (although this does not vex me because the public is paying for that bandwidth, and something tells me they won’t get me with the goatse treatment). The original images are huge (much bigger than they appear on the PDF), so I have had to crudely reduce them in size to fit in these pages.


Immigrants flooding this country! Er, or not.

Net Migration as a proportion of population


The Registrar General used the number of people signing by mark while marrying as a crude measure of literacy up until 1915.

Percentages of brides and grooms signing the marriage register by mark

Marriages in Gretna

They are a much more modern phenomenon than you might imagine.

Marriages registered at Gretna


I bet if you got divorced in the nineteenth century it was national news.



My favourite topic! You can see the general long-term decline in the number of deaths. But more interestingly, the peaks a troughs become much less extreme, signifying improved medicinal technology and ability to cope with epidemics.

These are just a few of my favourites, but I could have included twice as many (to be honest, you’re lucky I didn’t). But if you’re interested in Scotland’s modern history and demography I’d definitely take a look at the full document.


  1. Ooooh! Graphs. I’ll confess that I love them.

    Bizarrely, I hated statistics at university (largely because the main lectures were dull dull dull), but have since found myself fascinated by statistics and graphs, and do a fair bit of slicing ‘n dicing of clients data to get some interesting things together.

    Fascinating stuff you’ve found there. I’ll be taking a look at the report when I have a mo.