What is Scotland's Census?

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 we 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.

What topics does Scotland’s Census 2011 cover?

You can see the questions used in the 2011 Census by viewing or downloading the sample questionnaire (PDF - 833KB). The Census Data Explorer provides access to results from the 2011 Census using a topic-based approach. The topics 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. To find out more about how census data are used visit ‘Using Census Data’.

How did we decide what questions to ask?

In deciding what subjects to cover and what questions to ask, we consulted many people and organisations over several years and took full account of Scottish circumstances. We also considered:

  • how acceptable the questions would be to the public
  • whether the questions could be asked in a way that produces reliable answers, and
  • whether other ways of collecting the information already exist.

You can find out more about this process in ‘Planning the Census’. The Scottish Parliament then made the final decision on which questions to include in the census in Scotland.

How did we conduct Scotland's Census 2011?

National Records of Scotland have published Scotland’s Census 2011 General Report (PDF 3.6MB)and laid it before the Scottish Parliament in October 2015.  The report reviews the entire 2011 Census operation from the early planning and consultation through to the production and dissemination of outputs and evaluation.  It provides a wealth of detail about how Scotland’s Census 2011 was carried out and what we have learned to take forward in our planning for the next census. It reports on the successes as well as challenges and lessons to be learned for the census operation in the future. The main findings are summarised in the following themes:

  • programme management
  • legislation and the parliamentary process
  • stakeholder management
  • the census coverage survey
  • data collection and field operation
  • data processing and statistical methodology
  • output content production and dissemination