Scottish population declines

For five years running, Scotland has recorded more deaths than births and now has the lowest birth rate in Britain. As a result, its population is aging and over the long-run could cause a bankrupt pension system; sky-high health care costs, especially in Scotland, where the elderly receive free nursing-home care; a shortage of skilled workers; and a diminished pool of brainpower.

Last summer, Scotland experienced its lowest birth rate since it began keeping records 150 years ago:

  • In 1971, 86,728 babies were born in Scotland; in 2002, the number fell to 51,270.

  • Over that time the fertility rate fell to 1.49 from 2.53.

  • At the same time, people in Scotland are living much longer: just 13 years ago, a man could expect to live to be 61.1; today, the figure is 72.3.

    In response, Jack McConnell, who is Scotland's first minister, has announced a series of initiatives aimed at luring back Scottish expatriates and increasing the population.

  • The initiatives focus on promoting Scotland abroad, persuading graduating foreign university students to stay in Scotland and courting immigrants, though that may be risky politically.

  • He is in discussions with the British Home Office in London to steer legal immigrants to Britain up north to Scotland and away from the already glutted sections of England, where they often settle as they congregate with relatives, friends and compatriots.

    Glasgow, whose population has dropped from a million to 600,000 over the past 40 years, has taken matters into its own hands:

  • It has reached a deal to house asylum seekers in empty subsidized apartments scattered around the city.

  • More than 3,000 such families now live in Glasgow, and the Glasgow City Council hopes to persuade them to remain if their asylum applications are approved.

    Source: Lizette Alvarez, Scotland Takes Action to Halt Drop in Population, New York Times, November 30, 2003.

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    For more on Demographic Trends

    FMF Policy Bulletins/ 2 December 2003

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