Young people, out-migration and Scottish Islands – surveying the landscape

Rosie Alexander

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Concern about youth outmigration from the Scottish islands is longstanding(Highlands and Islands Enterprise, 2009, 2018). Similar concerns are evident in island communities across the globe, with the need to retain or attract young people understood as key to ensuring population sustainability –both in terms of increasing population numbers and ensuring a strong enough supply of workers to sustain the rest of theageingpopulation(Connell, 2018; King, 2009; King and Connell, 1999).The risks of not managing to attract or retain enough young people are significant, and in the Scottish imagination the spectre of islands such as St Kilda, Swona, The Monarchs and other islands that have experienced population collapse loom large. Despite these concerns, recent evidence shows thatisland population levels are stabilising and even increasing inthe Scottish islands. Whereas there was a 3percentdecrease in Scottish island population levels between 1991 and 2001, between 2001 to 2011 there was actually apopulationincrease of 4per cent(National Records of Scotland, 2015). There is also anecdotal evidence that young people are increasingly choosing to stay, return or move to island communities(CODEL, 2018).This raises the question -how far should youth migration remain a concernin the Scottish islands? This essay explores the evidence surrounding youth migration from Scottish island communities, identifying that although Scottish island populations may be generally increasing,patterns of migration are uneven, andsome of the smallest and most marginal islands continue to face significant challenges. Exploring the available evidence, this essay then seeks to address questions of why young people move, and why they stay away or return, as well as issues of who moves and who stays. Considering the diversity ofmigration experiences, this essay argues for a contextualised understanding of migration, focusing on how migration experiences are embedded in local contexts and cultures, and in the life course of individual migrants. Considering a more contextualised approach helps to highlight the ecosystem around migration decisions, and as a result the paper argues that youth migration remains an important area of consideration in the Scottish Islands and that strategies to address migration need to focus on localised ecosystem solutions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationScotland and Islandness
PublisherPeter Lang
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2021

Publication series

NameStudies in the History and Culture of Scotland
PublisherPeter Lang


  • Islands
  • Migration
  • young people


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