What is the population of your local area?

The answer depends on what area you want to know about. Is it an entire town or city? Is it a neighbourhood, or a few streets?

At National Records of Scotland (NRS) we produce population estimates for various different geographies covering local populations, each using different ways to split up the areas of Scotland. When we choose which areas to publish estimates for, we have to consider the different needs of our users and ensure that reliable figures can be calculated.

For looking at the population of local areas (below council level), the most commonly used datasets are:

  • Small area population estimates, which divide Scotland into small areas known as data zones, which cover all of Scotland and stay consistent over a long time.
  • Settlements and Localities population estimates, which cover the built-up areas of Scotland and change their boundaries to match changing patterns in population density.

Please note that there are a range of locality geographies in use across Scotland. This article focuses on the settlements and localities in use by NRS as part of our National Statistics.

You can find further information on other known locality geographies used by other organisations on the NRS website.

Small area population estimates

Our small area population estimates are based on areas known as data zones, and are updated every year. Data zones are used as the main building blocks to calculate the populations of larger areas of Scotland, such as wards, parliamentary constituencies, urban/rural areas and deprived areas. Data zones cover the whole of Scotland and are designed to have roughly standard populations of 500 to 1,000 residents at the time of each Census, while respecting existing boundaries as much as possible. At the last update, following the 2011 Census, there were 6,976 data zones covering all of Scotland.

Geography 1

Data zones (in blue) in parts of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Council areas.

Data zones are only updated after a Census, and so provide a consistent set of boundaries that stay the same for a decade. This allows for comparisons to be made over time, but also means data zone boundaries will not reflect changes more recent than the last Census. For example, newly built housing on the edge of towns may be placed in a large rural data zone, and some data zones may become entirely empty due to houses being demolished.

How do I find the latest small area population estimates?

The data zone for an area can be found by using the Find Areas or Atlas sections of the Scottish Government’s open data platform, statistics.gov.scot. Search for a postcode using Find Areas and Organisations – it will be listed under Postcodes in the search results – and select the 2011 data zone from the list provided.

Geography 2

Geography 3

Finding a data zone from a postcode using statistics.gov.scot.

Another method is to find a council area using the Atlas on the statistics.gov.scot website and then select “2011 Data Zones” on the “Show” menu above the map. This will show a zoomable map of the council area with all 2011 data zone boundaries. Clicking on a data zone will give a link to the data zone.

Each data zone has its own page on statistics.gov.scot. On this page you can find a summary of the data stored about it on the website, including population. Clicking on each number will take you to a page with details on which dataset the figure comes from, and an option to view charts showing comparisons across time and by age and sex.

Geography 4

Geography 5Two parts of a data zone’s page on statistics.gov.scot, showing its code and population statistics.

For more detailed breakdowns, you will need to make a note of the data zone’s code. This will be the letter S followed by eight numbers – for the data zone shown above it is S01010575.

Population data is available for data zones either from the population estimates dataset on statistics.gov.scot or from the detailed data zone tables in the Small Area Population Estimates section of the NRS website. Statistics.gov.scot provides estimates by sex and five-year age group, while NRS also provides estimates by sex and single year of age.

Population data is currently available for the 2011 Census-based data zones from 2011 to 2017, and work is underway to create comparable estimates for these areas going back to 2001 in the near future.

An interactive visualisation showing summary charts for each data zone is also available on the NRS website. This uses postcodes to automatically look up the data zone.

Settlements and Localities population estimates

  Geography 6

Localities (in blue) in parts of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Council areas.

The NRS Settlements and Localities are designed to show areas of densely populated or built-up land. Unlike data zones, they do not cover the whole of Scotland – just the built-up areas with a population of 500 or more.

If built-up areas touch each other, they are put into the same settlement, while localities divide larger settlements into parts to approximate distinct towns. The division of localities is based on previous boundaries and from consulting local authorities. For example, the settlement of Inverness and Culloden contains several towns, and so has been split into six localities.


Geography 7

The settlement of Inverness and Culloden divided into six localities.

The boundaries are updated regularly, with the latest version of Settlements and Localities (published earlier this year) reflecting the population in 2016. This allows the figures to reflect more recent changes on the edges of settlements, but also means comparisons with previous settlements and localities may not be possible due to changes in boundaries.

It is important to check the boundary of a settlement or locality before using its population. The names of settlements and localities generally refer to their largest parts, and may include other areas as well as those included in the name – this is particularly true for settlements.

Additionally, settlements and localities are built up from postcode boundaries maintained by NRS. This means that either all buildings with a particular postcode are included in a settlement, or none of them are. This sometimes leads to some parts of the edges of localities that do not perfectly match the boundary – some extra rural land included on the outskirts, for example. More information on the methodology is available on the NRS website.

How do I find the latest data for settlements and localities?

As with data zones, finding settlements and localities can be done using the Find Areas or Atlas sections of the Scottish Government’s open data platform, statistics.gov.scot. If a postcode is in a settlement or locality, these will be listed under the postcode above the data zones.

Geography 8

Finding a settlement or locality from a postcode using statistics.gov.scot.

The settlement or locality covering an area can also be found using the Atlas section of statistics.gov.scot. Selecting “Settlements” or “Localities” in the “Show” drop-down menu will show a map of all Settlements or Localities in Scotland, which can be zoomed in and navigated to find the ones covering a particular area. Unlike data zones, you do not need to choose a council area first.

Once you have found the name of the settlement or locality you are interested in, you can get population data for it either from the Settlements and Localities area of the NRS website, or from the dataset on statistics.gov.scot. The most recent population data currently available is for 2016.

 Population estimates for other areas

 Geography 9

Some other area boundaries in parts of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Council areas – electoral wards (black lines), Scottish Parliamentary constituencies (yellow lines) and council areas (red lines). Note that they do not all fit perfectly into each other.

NRS also publish population estimates covering other areas in Scotland. This includes:

Further information

If you have any questions or need help in finding data for your area, please contact our customer services team by email – statisticscustomerservices@nrscotland.gov.uk.


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