Facts about families in Scotland

An overview of family make-up, including cohabitation, marriage and civil partnerships, divorce and dissolution, stepfamilies, lone-parent families, teenage parents, first-time mothers, adoption and children in care.

  • 5,347,600 people live in Scotland (estimated June 2014). 1
  • Almost one in five (17%) are under 16 or over 65 (18%); and more than three in five (65%) are aged 16 to 64; (estimated June 2014). 1
  • 56,725 births were registered in 2014. 1
  • Between 2012 and 2037, the overall population is projected to increase by 9%. The working age population is projected to increase by 4% and the number of children by 5%, while the number of pensionable age is projected to increase by 27%. 1
  • There were 29,069 marriages in Scotland in 2014. Of these, 367 were same-sex marriages following The Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014 coming into force on 16 December 2014. The vast majority of same-sex marriages were of couples who changed their existing civil partnership to a marriage (359, 98%). 1
  • Around half of babies (50.8%) were born to unmarried parents in 2014. Most births are registered by both parents. 1
  • The average age of mothers has increased from 27.4 in 1991 to 30.1 in 2014. Similarly, the average age of fathers has increased from 30.0 in 1991 to 32.7 in 2014. 1
  • There were an estimated 2.42 million households in 2014, an increase of around 7% over the previous ten years. 2
  • The number of households is growing faster than the population. People are living in smaller households than previously. Over the last 50 years, one-person households have gone from being the least common household type, to the most common. Large households have become less common. 2
  • In 2011, compared to 2001, young adults were less likely to be living alone or with a partner, with an increase in the proportion living with their parents. 2
  • There were 1.5 million families living in households in 2011. 3
  • Of these, 65% (967,000) were married couple families, 16% (237,000) were cohabiting couple families and 19% (291,000) were lone parent families. 3
  • In 2011, there were over 190,000 lone parents with children (almost one in three families). 8
  • In 2015, in the UK as a whole, women accounted for 90% of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 10%. These percentages have changed little over the 19 years since 1996. Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down and therefore become lone parents. 4
  • There are differences in the marital status of male and female lone parents with dependent children; 35% of male lone parents have never been married, compared with 52% of female lone parents. 7% of male lone parents with dependent children are widowed, more than double the percentage of female lone parents. 5
  • In 2011, a fifth of the population was dependent children - 1,036,000 people. 69% lived in a one-couple family; 24% in female lone parent households, 2% in male lone parent households and 6% in other households (for example households with more than two generations). 6
  • The proportion of households with dependent children decreased from 28% in 2001 to 26% in 2011. 6
  • In the same period, family households were increasingly likely to have only one dependent child. 6
  • Of families with dependent children, step-families make up 8% (26,000) of married couple families and 29% (26,000) of cohabiting couple families. For married couple families, step-families make up 8% of families with one dependent child, 6% of families with two dependent children and 12% of families with three or more dependent children. For cohabiting couple families, step-families make up 24% of families with one dependent child, 31% of families with two dependent children and 46% of families with three or more dependent children. Step-families account for over half (54%) of the 15,000 cohabiting couple families in which the youngest dependent child is aged 12 or over. 7
  • 9,619 divorces were granted in 2013-14, 1% less than in 2012-13 (9,691). The number of divorces has reduced over the past two decades. 8
  • 61 civil partnership dissolutions were granted in 2013-14, down from 67 in 2012-13. 8
  • The total number of looked after children decreased over the past year.  More children are looked after in foster care than in any other placement type. Children continue to start and to cease being looked after at younger ages. 9
  • At 31 July 2014, there were 15,580 looked after children - a decrease of 452 (3%) from 2013. This was the second consecutive year the numbers decreased following a peak of 16,248 in 2012, although this is still higher than any year in the last 30 years. The decrease in numbers of looked after children is because fewer children started to be looked after, which also decreased for the second year in a row. 9
  • There is a decreasing trend in children being looked after at home with this group accounting for only 27% of the total in 2014 compared to 39% in 2010. Conversely, more children are being looked after away from home in community settings, in particular with foster carers (36%) and friends/relatives (27%). 2014 was the third year running with more children looked after by foster carers/prospective adopters than looked after at home. 9
  • Of the 15,580 children looked after by local authorities in 2014, 455 of them were adopted. 9
  • The number of children referred to the Scottish Adoption Register rose from 184 to 205 in 2014-2015 while the number of adopters fell from 122 to 110. 10
  • Based on estimates from research, about 16,500 children in Scotland have a parent in prison on a given day, with just under 2,000 separated from their mother through imprisonment. More children experience a parent's imprisonment than a parent's divorce. 14
  • Research indicates that only 17% of fathers look after their children while the mother is in prison. Children may go into formal care or, more commonly, into the care of another family member. This means they may have to move from house to house, depending on the length of imprisonment, and siblings may have to be separated. 15
  • 7% of children live through the imprisonment of a parent during their school years. There are many more children of prisoners as there are children in care. 60% of all women in prison have children. 15
  • Teenage pregnancy rates in all age groups continued to decline in 2013. The teenage pregnancy rate for under-20s has dropped from a peak of 57.7 per 1,000 population in 2007 to 37.7 per 1,000 population in 2013. A decrease of 34.7%. 16
  • Of the 455 adoptions of children registered in 2014 these were to step-parents (89), grandparent(s) 5, both parents 5, other relation(s) 14 and no relation (342). 11
  • 73% of adoptions registered in 2014 were by couples and 27% by single adopters. The vast majority of 'one adopter' cases are people who have become step-parents of the children of their spouses or partners. 11
  • 4% of adoptions registered in 2014 were by same sex couples. 11
  • One in five of Scotland's children is living in relative poverty, a level significantly higher than in many other European countries. In 2012/13 the proportion of children in Scotland experiencing poverty increased from 19% to 22%. This increase is in keeping with independent modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which forecast a massive increase in child poverty with up to 100,000 more children living in poverty in Scotland by 2020. 12 13
  • 33% of unemployed lone parents have a disability or longstanding illness and 34% have a child with a disability. 14
  • There is a strong correlation between deprivation and teenage pregnancy. In the under-20 age group. A teenager living in the most deprived area is 4.8 times as likely to experience a pregnancy as someone living in the least deprived area and nearly 12 times as likely to deliver their baby. 16


  1. National Records of Scotland. (August 2015) Scotland's Population, Annual review of demographic trends, 2014.  Available at http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files//statistics/rgar2014/rgar-14-corrected.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  2. National Records of Scotland. (July 2015) Estimates of households and dwellings in Scotland, 2014. Available at http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files//statistics/household-estimates/2014/household-est-2014.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  3. National Records of Scotland. (June 2014) Census 2011: Release 3e. Available at http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/news/2014/census-release-3e
  4. ONS (2015) Families and Households 2015: Statistical bulletin. Available at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2015/stb-families-and-households.html [accessed January 2016]
  5. ONS (2012) Lone parents with dependent children 2001 to 2011 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171780_251303.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  6. National Records of Scotland. (August 2015) Household composition for specific groups of people in Scotland, Scotland's Census 2011. Available at http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/documents/analytical_reports /HH%20report.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  7. Scotland's Census. (June 2014) Census 2011: detailed characteristics on population and households in Scotland, release 3e. Available at http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/news/census-2011-detailed-characteristics-population-and-households-scotland-release-3e [accessed January 2016]
  8. The Scottish Government. (2015) Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland 2013-14. First published 21 July 2015 Corrected 23 November 2015. Available at http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00489564.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  9. Scottish Government, (March 2015) Looked after children: key trends. Available at http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/TrendLookedAfter [accessed January 2016]
  10. Scotland's Adoption Register. (2015) Annual Report 2014-2015. Available at http://scotlands-adoption-register.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/2014-15-Annual-report.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  11. National Records of Scotland. (2014) Vital Events Reference Tables 2014, Adoptions and re-registrations. Available at http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/general-publications/vital-events-reference-tables/2014/section-2-adoptions-and-re-registrations [accessed January 2016]
  12. Child Poverty Action Group, Child poverty in Scotland, http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/child-poverty-facts-and-figures and The Scottish Government. (July 2014) Poverty and income inequality in Scotland: 2012-2013. Available at http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0045/00454875.pdf and [accessed January 2016]
  13. The most recent modelling (January 2014) by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that up to 100,000 children will be pushed into poverty by 2020 with the proportion of children living in poverty in Scotland forecast to increase to 26.2% by 2020, after housing costs are taken into account. See http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/7054 Appendix Table B2 Source http://www.cpag.org.uk [accessed January 2016]
  14. One Parent Families Scotland (2013) Submission from One Parent Families Scotland. Available at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_EqualOpportunitiesCommittee /One_Parent_Families_Scotland.pdf [accessed January 2016]
  15. Families Outside http://www.familiesoutside.org.uk and Scottish Consortium for Crime and Criminal Justice (2016)Children, Families, Young People and the Criminal Justice System http://www.scccj.org.uk/index.php/scottish-crime-and-justice-faqs/children-families-young-people-and-the-criminal-justice-system/ [accessed January 2016]
  16. NHS, ISD Scotland. (July 2015) Teenage pregnancy annual statistics, year ending December 2013. Available at https://isdscotland.scot.nhs.uk/Health-Topics/Sexual-Health/Publications/2015-07-07/2015-07-07-TeenPreg-Summary.pdf?15304201842 [accessed January 2016]