Population: introduction

Population statistics are a vital resource for public health; population estimates and projections are put to many uses. For instance for comparative purposes, population denominators are needed to present figures on mortality and disease prevalence, not just as numbers of persons affected, but as population specific rates. Other examples of uses include calculations of 'standardised' mortality/morbidity rates, life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and modelled small area estimates (e.g. smoking prevalence), which all require detailed age and gender breakdowns of population.

Trends in population estimates are clearly important to facilitate analysis of particular diseases and risk factors over time. While such population trend data are becoming increasingly available, it is important to be aware that population estimates are essentially cross-sectional, or snap shots in time of populations, and only partially take account of population migration.

Population projections calculated on a national and sub-national basis are used by central and local government departments in a wide range of ways, including to assist long-term fiscal and economic planning, to forecast future demands for services and to help devise strategies to deal with changing demographics. However these projections always have a high degree of uncertainty and can change substantially (see the Office of National Statistics (ONS) website for more details of UK population projections).

Given the variety of administrative areas within Scotland (NHS boards, local authorities, wards etc.) population estimates are required at a range of geographies. Additionally in recent years demand for a range of socio-economic and health data for small geographical areas has led to an accompanying demand for population estimates at the same level. The Scottish Government publishes a range of data, including population estimates for local authorities, intermediate geographies and data zones, on its STATISTICS.GOV.SCOT website.

It is important to be aware that population estimates are based on location of residence. People without a usual residence may be excluded.

The production of population estimates and population projections in Scotland is the responsibility of the Registrar General for Scotland, who heads the National Records of Scotland. The main published source of up-to-date Scottish population figures are the population statistics publications that provide population estimates and projections broken down into a variety of geographies, age groupings and by gender.

The tables in the population data page provide a selection of these. The key data sources and useful links pages of this section provide further details on relevant sources of information.