Facts about families

Summary of family context and characteristics in Scotland.



General population

On Census Day 2022, the population was estimated as 5,436,600. This is the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s Census. The population is projected to peak in 2028 at 5.48 million. It is then projected to fall by 1.8% to 5.39 million by 2045. [1]


Around one in five (21%) people are 19 and under. Just under one in five are over 65 (19%); and three in five (60%) are aged 20 to 64; (estimated June 2019). [2]


There were 46,959 live births registered in 2022 which is 2% lower than in 2021 but slightly higher than the lowest number ever recorded (46,809 in 2020).

Just over half of all live births (55%) were to unmarried parents. Multiple births accounted for 1.4% of all maternities with 622 maternities involving twins and nine involving triplets or more. [3]

Average age of mothers

On average, women are having children later in life, and having fewer children.

The age of mothers has changed over time. In the 1960s, mothers in their 20s were the most common age-groups. From the mid-1970s onwards births to mothers in their 30s began to increase and the 30-34 age-group is now the most common. The birth rate among mothers under 20 has fallen over time and is now the age-group with the lowest birth rate, but rose a little in the latest year. [4]

Teenage pregnancies

The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level since reporting began as rates fell for a 14th consecutive year to 23.2 per 1,000 women in 2021 (equivalent to 3,221 teenage pregnancies).

Teenage pregnancy rates vary by region. In 2021 NHS Highland recorded the lowest overall rate while NHS Tayside recorded the highest (16.7 and 32.2 per 1,000 women respectively).

In 2021 more than half (53%) of teenage pregnancies ended in termination rather than delivery. There is variation in the proportions of pregnancy outcomes across NHS boards.

Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen more rapidly in the most deprived areas which has narrowed the gap between the most and least deprived areas. However, in 2021 those living in the areas of highest deprivation still had teenage pregnancy rates more than four times higher than those in the least deprived (44.3 compared to 9.9 per 1,000 women).

Teenage women from the most deprived areas are more likely to deliver than to terminate their pregnancy. In contrast, those from the least deprived areas are more likely to terminate than to deliver. [5]


There were 370 adoptions registered in 2022, 110 fewer than in 2021. The number of adoptions has fallen over the long term. [6] The trend for fewer adoptions continues to reflect the UK-wide experience of lower numbers of children moving to adoptive families.

Most children referred to the adoption register in 2022/23 were between 2 years and 3 years 11 months. There is a marked increase in the number of older children referred. This may be a result of the pandemic delaying plans.

Average time to be matched was sitting at six to 12 months across all ages but children are now waiting longer to be matched.

Not all children referred to the register are matched with an adoptive family. There are also many children who wait a lot longer. These are children over the age of 4, sibling groups, children from Black and Minority Ethnic families and children with significant health and development difficulties. There continues to be a disconnect between the numbers of prospective adopters approved for these children. [7]

Care-experienced children and young people

Number of children in the care system

On 31 July 2022, 12,596 children were in the care system. This was a 5% decrease from 2021 and the lowest this figure has been since 2005. Most of these children (90%) were in community settings. The most common community placements for children were kinship care (34%), foster care (33%), and at home with parents (21%). A smaller proportion of children (10%) were in residential settings. [8]

Kinship care

34% of children in the care system were in kinship care (4,405), exceeding those looked after at home. [9]

Foster care

33% of children in the care system were in foster care.

The number of children in foster care and the number of foster care households continued to decrease. At 31 December 2022, there were 4,162 children and young people using fostering services, down from 5,171 in 2018.

As with previous years, there were more children placed in interim placements (1,845) compared to permanent (1,178) or long term (1,115). There were 99 children seeking asylum and refuge using fostering services in 2022, the highest number recorded to date.

In 2022, similar to each of the previous four years, 24% of the family groups placed in foster care households were placed separately. 70% of services said they had difficulties in 2022 recruiting households that will take family groups of children. [10]

Secure care accommodation

During 2021/22, there were 149 admissions to secure care accommodation – down by 16% since the previous year. On average, there were 74 residents, a 3% decrease on the previous year. Of these, 41 residents were from within Scotland (down 13% on 2021) and 33 were from outside Scotland (up 14% on 2021). [11]

Children no longer in the care system

During 2021/22, 3,550 children ceased to be in the care system, an 11% decrease from 3,994 during 2020/21. 53% of children went to live with their biological parents. 16% went to stay with friends or family and 5% were adopted. [12]

Child protection register

On 31 July 2022, 2,031 children were on the child protection register. This is a 4% decrease since 2021 and the lowest this figure has been since 2002.

Of those children, 50% were male, 45% were female, and 5% were not yet born. The proportion of children on the register aged under 5 decreased from 52% in 2021 to 48% in 2022, while the number of children age 5 and over increased from 48% in 2021 to 52% in 2022. [13]

Child poverty

Number of children living in poverty

Children are more likely to be in poverty across all measures compared to adults.

It is estimated that 24% of children (250,000 children each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-22. Before housing costs, it is estimated that 22% of children (230,000 children each year) were in relative poverty.

Relative poverty is a measure of whether the lowest-income households are keeping pace with the middle-income households across the UK.

It is estimated that in 201922, 69% of children in relative poverty after housing costs were living in working households (170,000 children each year).

While the poverty risk is much lower for children in working households compared to those in non-working households, not all work pays enough to ensure the household is above the poverty threshold. [14]

Children and food security

Food security is measured at a household level. The person in the household who knows most about buying and preparing food responds to the questions about food security. Note that not everyone in the household may experience this in the same way. For example, a parent may have worried about running out of food or reduced their own meal sizes, but have protected their young children from this experience.

Between 2019 and 2022, 79% of children lived in households with high food security. This means that 21% of children lived in households with marginal, low or very low food security.

Children in poverty were less likely to have high food security: just 55% of those in relative poverty, and 56% of those in severe poverty lived in high food security households. [15]

Priority groups

The poverty rate for children is particularly high among seven priority groups, accounting for 80% of all children in poverty.

Some types of households with children are known to be at particularly high risk of poverty. These include households with single parents, three or more children, disabled household members, of a minority ethnic background, with a child aged under one, or a mother aged under 25. These groups do not cover everyone at higher risk of poverty, but taken together, they cover the majority of households with children that are in poverty.

The proportion of children in relative poverty after housing costs who are in certain priority groups are: three or more children in the household (34%); disabled household member (28%); minority ethnic household (39%); single parent in household (38%). [16]

Working families

While working families benefit from lower-cost childcare in Scotland compared to England, they are often unable to meet the minimum socially acceptable standard of living even if working full time on the national Living Wage.

In remote areas, the higher cost of essentials such as food and fuel means that, even with the additional financial support from the Scottish Government, there is an increased risk of being unable to reach a socially acceptable standard of living.

While the additional financial support provided to households with children in Scotland is having a positive impact on family incomes compared with the UK as a whole, many are still struggling to meet a socially acceptable standard of living. [17]

Disability and parents/family

Households containing a disabled person have higher levels of child material deprivation (20%) compared to households with no disabled people (8%).

Compared to non-disabled children, disabled children more frequently had high scores of difficulties, as measured in the strengths and difficulties questionnaire in the Scottish Health Survey. Disabled children reported more social, emotional and behavioural difficulties at an early age, compared to non-disabled children.

Childcare satisfaction for parents with disabled children is comparable to that of parents with non-disabled children, although the data suggests some gaps in provision. [18]

Refugee/asylum-seeking families

In June 2023 there were 5,323 asylum seekers receiving support from local authorities. Glasgow was the local authority with the most dispersed asylum seekers (4,694 or 74 per 10,000 residents). [19] [20]

The most recent data available (September 2021) shows that in publicly funded schools there were 1,860 children reported as being an asylum seeker and 3,502 children reported as being a refugee. [21]

Children with parents in prison

The Scottish Government estimates that 20,000 children have a parent in prison. Evidence at a UK level showed that the families of those imprisoned relatives saw their debts increase during the period of incarceration, exacerbating the impact of poverty, including child poverty. [22]

Parents affected by alcohol and drugs

In 2020/21, drug use was recorded in 1.7% (766) of 45,466 maternities. This was equivalent to a rate of 16.8 maternities, with drug use per 1,000 maternities, slightly higher than in 2019/20. A total of 141 (0.3%) of 45,939 babies born were recorded as having been affected by, or having withdrawal symptoms from, maternal use of drugs of addiction. In 2020/21, the rate of babies affected by maternal use of drugs was 3.1 per 1,000 live births. This rate decreased steadily over time from 6.9 per 1,000 live births in 2011/12, but has increased slightly from 2019/20 (2.8 per 1,000 live births). [23]

In 2018, 35% (342) of people who had a drug misuse death were reported to be a parent or parental figure to one or more children aged under 16. 5% of people (61) were reported to be living in the same household as the child at the time of their death. In 2018, 566 children lost a parent or parental figure as a result of a drug misuse death. Of these 566 children, 18% (100) were reported to be living in the same household as the deceased parent at the time of death. [24]

In 2021, parental substance use was identified as a concern at the case conferences of 932 (15%) of children who were on the Child Protection Register. [25]


  1. Scotland’s Census 2022
  2. National Records of Scotland. October 2020 update. Scotland's Population 2019. The Registrar General's Annual Review of Demographic Trends.
  3. National Records of Scotland. July 2023. Annual births, deaths and marriages and other vital events: vital events reference tables 2022.
  4. National Records of Scotland. July 2023. Annual births, deaths and marriages and other vital events: vital events reference tables 2022.
  5. Public Health Scotland. July 2023. Teenage pregnancies: year of conception ending December 2021.
  6. National Records of Scotland. July 2023. Annual births, deaths and marriages and other vital events: vital events reference tables 2022.
  7. Scotland’s Adoption Register. SAR annual report 2022-2023
  8. Scottish Government, April 2023. Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2021-2022.
  9. Scottish Government, April 2023. Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2021-2022.
  10. Care Inspectorate. August 2023. Fostering and adoption statistical bulletin 2022-23.
  11. Scottish Government, April 2023. Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2021-2022.
  12. Scottish Government, April 2023. Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2021-2022.
  13. Scottish Government, April 2023. Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2021-2022.
  14. Scottish Government. March 2023. Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-22.
  15. Scottish Government. March 2023. Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-22
  16. Scottish Government. March 2023. Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-22
  17. Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland. 2024. The Cost of a Child in Scotland in 2023
  18. Scottish Government. 2019. Scotland's Wellbeing: national outcomes for disabled people
  19. Home Office (2023) Immigration system statistics data tables: Asylum seekers in receipt of support, by support type, accommodation type and local authority
  20. House of Commons Library. September 2023. Asylum statistics
  21. Scottish Government. December 2022. FOI/202200325006
  22. Scottish Government. February 2022. The Vision for Justice in Scotland. Justice vision: evidence supplement
  23. Births in Scottish hospitals: year ending 31 March 2021, Public Health Scotland, 2021 (National Statistics)
  24. National Drug-Related Deaths Database (Scotland) Report: Analysis of deaths in 2017 & 2018, Public Health Scotland, 2022 (Official Statistics).
  25. Children's Social Work Statistics 2020/21, Scottish Government, 2022 (Official Statistics)