National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Scotland’s Place in Europe

Scotland’s Place in Europe

Census Results
  • Scotland’s total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.49 is just above the European average of 1.47.

  • Scotland will soon be below average in the 'European Geriatric League Table' (Coleman 2003).

  • Scotland is experiencing similar trends to the rest of Europe in terms of demographic and household changes.

Until the 1960’s, great similarity in family and household trends between the different industrialised European countries was observed. However, since then the similarity between these countries seems to be disappearing (Rothenbacher, 1995). Instead, three distinct groupings of countries with similar household formation trends have emerged (Eurostat, 1999):

  • Nordic                        Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Netherlands
  • North/Central           UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Austria
  • Southern/Catholic   Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece         

In these groupings, the constituent parts of the UK are pigeon-holed together. However, as noted above, the characteristics of Scotland’s household composition are different from the rest of the UK in many respects. Therefore Scotland’s place in Europe was investigated further to find out if it is correctly classified as North/Central or whether Scotland is aligned more with the Nordic countries.

It was hoped that general trends and data on the 5 household classification groups for Scotland analysed previously could be compared with those for the Nordic, North/Central and South/Catholic groups. However, when data from the Eurostat Yearbook and the United Nations Statistics Division were combined it was found that the data trends made no sense. Subsequent research found that this is a fairly common problem when trying to compare household data across the different European countries with the data often being 'deficient and incomplete' (Coleman, 2003). Therefore a literature review of existing work about the general household trends across the various European countries was carried out.

Very similar trends to those previously discussed about Scotland have been witnessed across Europe over the last 30 years:-

  • Reducing household size;

  • Increase in the family types;

  • Increasing single person households;

  • Increase in the rate of lone parent households;

  • Increasing rate of childlessness (i.e. increasing number of couple only households);

  • Increasing number of households;

  • Decreasing number of married couple households with children;

  • Increasing rate of divorce.

However, according to Rothenbacher (1995), the rate and reasons for these observed trends vary from country to country with Scotland often at the forefront. For example, Scotland has one of the highest divorce rates, highest rate of single person households and highest rate of teenage motherhood in Europe - approximately 4 times the Western European average despite a decline in fertility rates across Europe (Coleman, 2003) over the last 20-30 years. The total fertility rate across selected European countries is shown in Figure 12  (36 KB PDF) (National Records of Scotland 2003).

The total fertility rate for Scotland (1.48) is just above the EU average of 1.47. The countries in the Southern/Catholic group (with the exception of Ireland which has the highest total fertility rate in Europe at 1.98) have the lowest rates of total fertility in Europe at 1.24 and 1.25 - in Italy and Spain respectively. The Nordic countries can be found to have some of the highest rates, from approximately 1.5 in Sweden to approximately 1.65 in Denmark.

The decrease in fertility across Europe is attributed in part to the increasing age at which women are having children. This is evident by the increasing number of childless couple families and smaller family sizes in many European countries, especially the Nordic group (Pearce, Cantisani & Laihonen, 1999).

Of course, the decrease in fertility has contributed, along with people living longer, to the ageing of the population evident across Europe, including Scotland as discussed in section 2. However, Scotland and the rest of the UK are no longer at the forefront of the ageing trend, with many European countries having caught up with Scotland’s levels over the last 5 to 10 years.

It is estimated that soon Scotland will be below average in the 'European geriatric league table' (Coleman, 2003). This is not to say that Scotland’s population is no longer ageing. Rather, similar problems associated with ageing and longevity (e.g. increasing pensions and health service burdens) are projected in many other European countries. Although Scotland’s household trends are often at one extreme of the European range they are in no way unique and are in fact part of a Europe-wide trend dubbed the 'Second Demographic Transition' (Kuijsten & Strohmeir, 1997).

Without the establishment of a consistent European dataset on household change, it is difficult to establish Scotland’s place in Europe. It is hoped that the establishment of the European Community Household Panel (Eurostat, 2003) and the work carried out by researchers such as Coleman (2003) in establishing a consistent Europe wide dataset will soon allow Scotland’s position to be established.


Scotland and Ireland differ from England, Wales and Northern Ireland in many aspects of household composition. However, there is a Europe-wide problem of identifying the make up of today’s society. With pluralisation of households and the increasing complexity and diversity of the 'family unit', the traditional census was until 2001 failing to capture a true picture of society because many family types remained hidden. This in itself may account for the dramatic changes from one census to the next. However, the introduction of the 'Relationship Matrix' question in the 2001 Census makes it seem that these changes were an artefact of the census which has now adjusted to the changes in society and will in future provide an accurate picture of changes in household composition.

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