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Scotland’s Census – Scottish Geo-Demographics explained

Scotland’s Census is the official estimate of every person and household. The census has collected information about the population every 10 years since 1801 (except in 1941 when no census was taken due to the Second World War). For the 2011 census, the National Record of Scotland asked people to fill in a census questionnaire to reflect their circumstances on 27 March 2011.

Detailed statistics from the census describe the characteristics of an area, such as how many men and women there are and their ages, ethnic group, education level and a broad range of other characteristics. The statistics provide a rich picture of Scotland’s population by understanding the similarities and differences in the population’s characteristics locally and nationally.

The main areas are:

  • Education
  • Ethnicity, Identity, Language and Religion
  • Health
  • Housing and Accommodation
  • Labour Market
  • Population and Households
  • Transport

There is a wide range of information available within each topic, from simple (single variable) counts to complex cross-tabulations of variables.

Why have a census?

Census information is needed to help the government develop policies and initiatives, and for local authorities to plan services and to make effective use of resources that benefit the people of Scotland. Key users of census information also include academia, research organisations, the private and voluntary sectors, the media, and the general public.

Decisions are taken every day using census statistics. For example, the planning of school spaces, houses, care homes, hospitals and fire services are all influenced by the census.

How does the Scottish census differ from the rest of the UK?

There are three Census in the UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. The English and Welsh Census are combined into a single one.

Each census has an authority responsible for managing it and ensuring the data is anonymised before publication to protect individuals.

The authorities responsible for the management of the census in each nation are:

  • Scotland – National Records of Scotland (NRS)
  • Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
  • England & Wales – Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Each authority will agree a list of questions very similar to the last census to allow for continuity and comparisons over the previous one to show changes in areas. In addition to the standard questions, there will also be some which are only relevant to that nation. E.g. in Scotland one of the questions relates to the understanding of Scottish Gaelic.

There are also some differences in the geographical structure used to release the data for wider consumption. For example, the ONS and NRS will release data at an Output Area level. However, Northern Ireland will use Small Areas as it’s census can also be joined to the Republic of Ireland census.

In essence, the geographical areas are roughly the same size so they can still be used for comparison purposes.

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