The population of the Shetland Islands in 2021 is estimated to be 22,870. This is a slight decrease on the population recorded in the 2011 census, which was 23,167.
Shetland is the name for a collection of around 300 islands in the North Atlantic. They are located 170km off the north east coast of Scotland, between the Orkney Islands and the Faroe Islands.
Shetland has a mixed Scottish and Norse heritage. It has been inhabited for thousands of years, since at least the Mesolithic period. The Shetlands were colonised by the Norse in the 8th and 9th centuries, and dominated by Scandinavia in early medieval times. It was incorporated into Scotland in the 15th century.
The largest island in the Shetlands is Mainland, home to 18,765 people at the time of the 2011 census. Mainland is the third largest island in Scotland by area (after Lewis and Harris, and Skye) and the second most populous island in Scotland, second only to Lewis and Harris.
Lerwick is the largest town in the Shetland Islands. The latest estimate of the population of Lerwick is 6,880 (from 2016).
Shetland population growth
Historical population data for Shetland is available going back to the 1801 census.
It shows that the population of Shetland reached its highest point of 3.1,670 in 1861, before falling gradually in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. It reached its lowest point of 17,335 in 1971.
A surge in population brought the number of people living on Shetland to 22,053 in 1971, and since then the population has grown much more slowly. The 2011 census showed a population of 23,167.
The table below lists the population of the Shetland Islands at censuses from 19801. Data is available for most, but not all, census years.
Shetland islands by population
Mainland is the largest island in the Shetlands by size and population. In 2011 it had a population of 18,765.
Other major islands are Whalsay (population 1,061), Yell (population 966), West Burra (population 776) and Unst (population 632).
The table below lists all of the populated islands in Shetland, data from the 2011 census.
|Linga near Muckle Roe||70||0|
|Isle of Noss||343||0|
Largest towns in Shetland
Lerwick, on Mainland is the largest town on Shetland. It had a population of 6,880 in 2016. Lerwick is the administrative capital of Shetland, and based on 2011 census data its population is 97% white, 2.2% Asian, 0.8% other ethnic group.
Other major towns are Scalloway (population 1,240) and Brae (population 750). Scalloway was the capital of Shetland until 1708.