Demography of the United Kingdom

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According to the 2011 census, the total population of the United Kingdom was around 63,182,000.[1] It is the third-largest in the European Union (behind Germany and France) and the 22nd-largest in the world. Its overall population density is one of the highest in the world at 256 people per square kilometre, due to the particularly high population density in England. Almost one-third of the population lives in England's southeast, which is predominantly urban and suburban, with about 8 million in the capital city of London, the population density of which is just over 5,200 per square kilometre.[2]

The United Kingdom's assumed high literacy rate (99% at age 15 and above)[3] is attributable to universal public education introduced for the primary level in 1870 (Scotland 1872, free 1890[4]) and secondary level in 1900. Parents are obliged to have their children educated from the ages of 5 to 16 (with legislation passed to raise this to 18), and can continue education free of charge in the form of A-Levels, vocational training or apprenticeship to age 18. About 40% of British students go on to post-secondary education (18+). The Church of England and the Church of Scotland function as the national churches in their respective countries, but all the major religions found in the world are represented in the United Kingdom.

The UK's population is predominantly White British. Being located close to continental Europe, the countries that formed the United Kingdom were subject to many invasions and migrations, especially from Scandinavia and the continent, including Roman occupation for several centuries. Historically, British people were thought to be descended mainly from the different ethnic stocks that settled there before the 11th century: pre-Celtic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman. Although Celtic languages are partially spoken in Scotland, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland, the predominant language overall is English. In North and West Wales, Welsh is widely spoken as a first language, but much less so in the South East of the country, where English is the predominant language.

NASA VIIRS image, indicating British Isles population centres


Three sets of demographic statistics are useful to governments and others concerned with their nations’ political and economic stability. The first is an enumeration of the number of inhabitants distinguished by age, sex, and occupation. The second involves a continuous record of population trends from the registration of births, marriages, and burials. The third is documentation of the extent of internal and external migration.[relevant? ]

England and Wales[edit]

Before 1801, England had none of these except for the civil registration of births, marriages, and burials briefly attempted under the Commonwealth (1653–1660) and an even shorter-lived initiative of the same kind in 1694 in connection with the attempt to raise a tax on the occasion of every birth, marriage, and death—paupers excepted. At that time, the chief source of information on the demography was provided by parish registration of baptisms, marriages, and burials that had occurred in the parish churches, supplemented by information on mortality in the Bills of Mortality that were published for certain large towns and by inferences drawn from various counts of taxpayers.

The article[which?] focuses on the reliability of the parochial registration system and the way in which it was exploited by the state as measured against the state’s objectives for establishing it in 1538. These objectives were rarely achieved. By the end of the 18th century, the parish registers were falling short of providing a national system of registration. Neither had the registers at any time provided the requisite detail to allow the verification of age, lineal descent, or right of inheritance. They had not been used as a way of raising revenue except briefly between 1694 and 1705. Moreover, the Anglican Church was extremely lax about the enforcement of its own regulations regarding the appropriate time for registering baptisms, burials, and marriages.

The ability of the registration system to fulfil these original objectives can be measured in terms of the breadth of its coverage and the quality of the information provided. Each category can be further subdivided. For example, the breadth of coverage can be defined to include the speed with which parishes throughout the country commenced the registration of baptisms, marriages, and burials; the percentage of the population whose vital events went unrecorded even in the parishes that established registers; and the success of the incumbents and churchwardens in preserving the registers completed by their predecessors.

The quality of the recording can be assessed based on the amount of information offered about individuals mentioned in the registers, the extent to which that information was provided in a standard form across the country, and the clarity of the presentation (whether separate registers for baptisms, marriages, and burials were maintained). The accuracy of the work undertaken by the parochial clergy as unpaid servants of the state in providing Rickman with the totals of baptisms, marriages, and burials can also be assessed. Each of these aspects will now be considered in turn before an assessment of the overall effectiveness of the registration system is attempted.

Cromwell’s brief instructions establishing the registration system did not specify what sort of register book was to be provided. Not unnaturally, most parishes chose to use paper rather than the dearer, but more durable, parchment. In 1597, the Convocation of the clergy, bishops, and archbishop of the province of Canterbury found it necessary to order parchment copies of all entries from old paper registers, instructions that were soon reissued in 1603.

The first census held throughout the UK was organised in 1801. England and Wales started the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in 1837. The first attempt by the state to compile statistics on migration was included in the census of 1841.

United Kingdom[edit]

During the Industrial Revolution, the life expectancy of children increased dramatically. The proportion of the children born in London who died before the age of five decreased from 74.5 per thousand in 1730–1749 to 31.8 per thousand in 1810–1829.[5] According to Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, the population of England and Wales, which had remained steady at 6 million from 1700 to 1740, rose dramatically after 1740.

The first Census in 1801 revealed that the population of Great Britain was 10.5 million.[6][7] In 1800 the population of Ireland was between 4.5 and 5.5 million.[8][9]

The 1841 UK Census counted the population of England and Wales to be 15.9 million.[10] Ireland's population was 8.2 million in 1841.[11] The population of Scotland was 2.6 million.

The Great Irish Famine, which began in the 1840s, caused the deaths of one million Irish people, and caused over a million to emigrate.[12] Mass emigration became entrenched as a result of the famine and the population continued to decline until the mid-20th century.

The population of England had almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901. Ireland’s population decreased rapidly, from 8.2 million in 1841 to less than 4.5 million in 1901.[13]


Map of population density in the UK as at the 2011 census.
Population density (people per km2) by country, 2012.

The estimated population of the United Kingdom in the 2011 census was 63.182 million of whom 31.029m were men and 32.153m women.[14]

Based on the 2011 census the population of England was 53.012m (84% of the UK), Scotland was estimated at 5.295m (8.4%), Wales was 3.063m (4.8%) and Northern Ireland 1,811m (2.9%).

PartPopulation (2011)Percentage (2011)Area[15]Population Density
130,427 km²406/km²
Scotland  5,295,0008.48.4
  78,772 km²  67/km²
Wales  3,063,4564.84.8
  20,778 km²147/km²
Northern Ireland  1,810,8632.92.9
  13,843 km²130/km²
United Kingdom63,181,775100100
243,820 km²259/km²

More recent estimates for mid-2012 suggest that there are 53.5m in England, 5.3m in Scotland, 3.1m in Wales and 1.8m in Northern Ireland.[16]

There are 13 urban areas which exceed 500,000 inhabitants, these being centred on London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Bradford, Southampton and Portsmouth, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leicester, Manchester, Belfast, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne and Nottingham.[17]

Age structure[edit]

The key features of the age distribution profile for the UK were summarised in December 2012 by the Office for National Statistics in terms of peaks and wide bands of the pyramid reflecting high numbers of births in previous years particularly for people aged 60–64 born following the Second World War and those aged 40–49, born during the 1960s baby boom. There is a smaller number of children aged five to nine years than ten years ago which is a consequence of low numbers of births at the beginning of the 21st century, and the broadening of the pyramid in the 0–4 years category is due to a higher numbers of births in recent years. At higher ages, females outnumber males, reflecting the higher life expectancy of females. At lower ages there are more males than females, reflecting that there are slightly more boys than girls born each year.[18]

Age structure for each five year band

Population pyramid for the United Kingdom as at the 2011 census.
Ages attained
Population % of total
Source: 2011 Census: Usual resident population by five-year age group and sex, local authorities in the United Kingdom, Accessed 23 December 2012

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Age structure for men and women in 2011

Age groupPopulation %
All ages31.02932.15363.182100
Source: Table 1 2011 Census: Usual resident population by five-year age group and sex, United Kingdom and constituent countries, Accessed 20 December 2012

UK Population change over time[edit]

Population levels at census dates

United KingdomPopulation
at start of period
Average annual changeAverage annual birthsAverage annual deathsAverage annual natural changeAverage annual net migration
and other changes[which?]
Population density
at start of period
1901 – 191138,237,000385,0001,091,000624,000467,000-82,000156/km²
1911 – 192142,082,000195,000975,000689,000286,000-92,000172/km²
1921 – 193144,027,000201,000824,000555,000268,000-67,000180/km²
1931 – 195146,038,000213,000793,000603,000190,000 22,000188/km²
1951 – 196150,225,000258,000839,000593,000246,000 12,000205/km²
1961 – 197152,807,000312,000962,000638,000324,000-12,000216/km²
1971 – 198155,928,00042,000736,000666,00069,000-27,000229/km²
1981 – 199156,357,000108,000757,000655,000103,000  5,000231/km²
1991 – 200157,439,000161,000731,000631,000100,000 61,000235/km²
2001 – 200859,113,000324,000722,000588,000134,000191,000242/km²


Population density based on a calculated 243,820 km² area of the United Kingdom

Vital statistics since 1960[edit]

Average population (in thousands)Live birthsDeathsNatural changeCrude birth rate (per 1,000)Crude death rate (per 1,000)Natural change (per 1,000)Fertility ratesPopulation density

Population density based on a calculated 243,820 km² area of the United Kingdom.

Population projection[edit]

The UK Office for National Statistics projected in 2011 that by 2035, the UK's population is expected to increase to just over 73 million people. This is an average annual growth rate of 0.6% per annum. In 2010 the average (median) population age was 39.9 projected to increase to age 42.2 by 2035. The population growth between 2011 and 2020 of the constituent countries of the UK vary. For England it is 8%, Northern Ireland 6%, and Scotland and Wales 5%.[21]

Population projections 2015 – 2035[21][edit]

Age 0-16
Aged 0–16
Aged 75+
Aged 75+
Population Density

Population density based on a calculated 243,820 km² area of the United Kingdom

Current vital statistics[edit]


Social issues[edit]


In 2012 the UK's total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.92 children per woman,[23] below the replacement rate, which in the UK is 2.075.[24] In 2001, the TFR was at a record low of 1.63, but it then increased every year till reaching a peak of 1.96 in 2008, before decreasing again.[23] The TFR was considerably higher during the 1960s 'baby boom', peaking at 2.95 children per woman in 1964.[25]

In 2010 and again in 2012, England and Wales's TFR rose to 1.94.[23] In Scotland however TFR is lower: it decreased from 1.75 in 2010 to 1.67 in 2012.[23] Northern Ireland has the highest TFR in the UK, standing at 2.02 in 2010 and even 2.03 in 2012.[23]

The TFR for British residents also varies by country of birth. In England and Wales in 1996, people born in the UK had a TFR of 1.67, India 2.21 and Pakistan and Bangladesh 4.90, for example.[26]

Statistics for 2013 live births in England and Wales:[27]

Other statistics:


A British journal published in 2004 estimated that approximately 5% of the British population is gay.[35] A government figure estimated in 2005 that there are 3.6 million gay people in Britain comprising 6 percent of the population.[36]

The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) estimated in 2009 that "56,000 might potentially be transsexual people".[37] They note that it's very difficult to make a reliable estimate. This would be 0.09% of the population at the time.

The UK Census of 2011[38] gives the following figures

• 1.1 per cent of the surveyed UK population, approximately 545,000 adults, identified themselves as Gay or Lesbian,

• 0.4 per cent of the surveyed UK population, approximately 220,000 adults, identified themselves as Bisexual,

• 0.3 per cent identified themselves as ‘Other’,

• 3.6 per cent of adults stated ‘Don’t know’ or refused to answer the question,

• 0.6 per cent of respondents provided ‘No response’ to the question.

• 2.7 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds in the UK identified themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual compared with 0.4 per cent of 65 year olds and over.

Approximately 0.4% of the UK population are nonbinary.[39]


United Kingdom[edit]

Map showing the percentage of the population who are not white according to the 2011 census.

Census estimate for the main ethnic group categories

Ethnic Group2001[40][41][42][43]2011[44]
White: Irish Traveller63,1930.10%
Asian or Asian British: Total2,578,8264.39%4,373,339


Asian or Asian British: Indian1,053,4111.79%1,451,862


Asian or Asian British: Pakistani747,2851.27%1,173,892


Asian or Asian British: Bangladeshi283,0630.48%451,529


Asian or Asian British: Chinese247,4030.42%433,150


Asian or Asian British: Asian Other247,6640.42%861,815


Black or Black British1,148,7381.95%1,904,684


British Mixed677,1171.15%1,250,229


Other: Total230,6150.39%580,374




Due to question and response category differences in the country specific ethnic group question asked in the 2011 Censuses of the UK, some responses are not directly comparable, so a high level classification which is common to all census analyses was used by the ONS to standardize the composite data for the United Kingdom.

Estimated foreign-born population by country of birth, April 2007 – March 2008. 
Estimated foreign-nationals population by country of nationality, April 2007 – March 2008. 


This chart shows the proportion of UK citizens responses with regards to their religion at the 2011 census.
Percentage of respondents in the 2011 census in the UK who said they were Christian.

The traditional religion in the United Kingdom is Christianity. In England the established church is the Church of England (Anglican). In Scotland, the Church of Scotland (a Presbyterian Church) is regarded as the 'national church' but there is not an established church.

In Wales there is no established church, with the Church in Wales having been disestablished in 1920. Likewise, in Ireland the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871. In Northern Ireland and similarly in parts of Scotland, there is a sectarian divide between Roman Catholic and Protestant communities.

The table below shows data regarding religion for the 2001 and 2011 censuses:

Other religion178,8370.30%262,7740.42%
No religion16,221,50925.67%
Religion not stated4,528,3237.17%
(No religion and Religion not stated)13,626,29923.18%20,749,83232.84%
Total population58,789,194100.00%63,182,178100.00%

These figures represent a decrease of 12% in the number of people identifying themselves as Christian in the 10 year period from 2001 to 2011, and an increase of 10% in the number of people stating that they have no religion.[53]

In the 2001 Census, rather than select one of the specified religions offered on the Census form, many people chose to write in their own religion. Some of these religions were reassigned to one of the main religions offered, predominantly within the Christian group. In England and Wales, 151,000 people belonged to religious groups which did not fall into any of the main religions. The largest of these were Spiritualists (32,000) and Pagans (31,000), followed by Jain (15,000), Wicca (7,000), Rastafarian (5,000), Bahà'ì (5,000) and Zoroastrian (4,000).

Although the Census 2001 also recorded 390,000 Jedi Knights, making Jedi the fourth-largest "religion" in the UK, this does not confer them any official recognition. In fact, all returns with "Jedi Knight" were classified as "No religion", along with Atheist, Agnostic, Heathen and those who ticked "Other" but did not write in any religion.

An Office for National Statistics survey of 450,000 Britons in 2010 found that 71% are Christian, 4% are Muslim and 21% have no religious affiliation.[54]


The United Kingdom's de facto official language is English which is spoken as a first language by 95% of the population. Six regional languages; Scots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Scottish Gaelic are protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Abilities in these languages (other than Cornish) for those aged three and above were recorded in the UK census 2011 as follows.[55][56][57]

AbilityWalesScotlandNorthern Ireland
WelshScottish GaelicScotsIrishUlster-Scots
Understands but does not speak, read or write157,7925.15%23,3570.46%267,4125.22%70,5014.06%92,0405.30%
Speaks, reads and writes430,71714.06%32,1910.63%1,225,62223.95%71,9964.15%17,2280.99%
Speaks but does not read or write80,4292.63%18,9660.37%179,2953.50%24,6771.42%10,2650.59%
Speaks and reads but does not write45,5241.49%6,2180.12%132,7092.59%7,4140.43%7,8010.45%
Reads but does not speak or write44,3271.45%4,6460.09%107,0252.09%5,6590.33%11,9110.69%
Other combination of skills40,6921.33%1,6780.03%17,3810.34%4,6510.27%9590.06%
No skills2,263,97573.90%5,031,16798.30%3,188,77962.30%1,550,81389.35%1,595,50791.92%
Can speak562,01618.35%57,6021.13%1,541,69330.12%104,9436.05%35,4042.04%
Has some ability799,48126.10%87,0561.70%1,929,44437.70%184,89810.65%140,2048.08%

Cornish is spoken by around 2,500 people. In the 2011 census 464 respondents aged three and over in Cornwall said that Cornish was their main language, amounting to 0.09% of the total population of Cornwall aged three and over.

Distribution of those who stated they could speak a regional language in the 2011 census.
Scottish Gaelic 

After English Polish was the second most common language given in the United Kingdom census 2011. 618,091 respondents aged three and over said that Polish was their main language, amounting to 1.01% of the total population of the United Kingdom aged three and over.

The French language is spoken in some parts of the Channel Islands although the islands, like the Isle of Man, are not part of the United Kingdom.[citation needed] British Sign Language is also common.

National Identity[edit]

Respondents to the 2011 UK census gave their national identities as follows.[58][59][60]

National IdentityUnited KingdomCountry
EnglandScotlandWalesNorthern Ireland
English only51.41%60.38%2.28%11.22%0.60%
Scottish only5.93%0.79%62.43%0.50%0.37%
Welsh only3.26%0.55%0.15%57.51%0.06%
Northern Irish only0.81%0.21%0.33%0.14%20.94%
British only18.77%19.19%8.37%16.95%39.89%
English and British only7.82%9.09%1.26%1.54%0.27%
Scottish and British only1.67%0.15%18.29%0.07%0.09%
Welsh and British only0.44%0.11%0.06%7.11%0.02%
Northern Irish and British only0.22%0.03%0.15%0.02%6.17%
Other combination of UK identities only (excludes Irish)0.45%0.37%1.01%1.10%0.13%
Other identity and at least one UK identity0.97%0.90%1.25%0.43%3.05%
Irish only1.31%0.64%0.41%0.32%25.26%


University Place, University of Manchester

Each country of the United Kingdom has a separate education system, with power over education matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being devolved.

The Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills are responsible to the UK Parliament for education in England, though the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of Local Education Authorities. Universal state education in England and Wales was introduced for primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900.[61] Education is mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, only a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. Despite a fall in actual numbers, the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%.[62]

Just over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools.[63] State schools which are allowed to select pupils according to intelligence and academic ability can achieve comparable results to the most selective private schools: out of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 two were state-run grammar schools. England has 4 Universities ranked amongst the top 10 in the 2011 THES - QS World University Rankings.[64]

In Scotland, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is responsible to the Scottish Parliament for education, with day-to-day administration and funding of state schools being the responsibility of Local Authorities. Scotland first legislated for universal provision of education in 1696. The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4% though it has been rising slowly in recent years.[65] Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment charges as the fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.[66]

The National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of students in Wales are educated either wholly or largely through the medium of Welsh and lessons in the language are compulsory for all until the age of 16. There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh Medium schools as part of the policy of having a fully bi-lingual Wales.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is responsible for education in Northern Ireland though responsibility at a local level is administered by 5 Education and Library Boards covering different geographical areas.

The UK has some of the top universities in the world with Cambridge, Oxford, London and Edinburgh ranked amongst the top 20 in the 2011 THES - QS World University Rankings.[64]


The geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer carried out extensive research of the British Isles, finding that the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon influx had little effect, with the majority of British ethnicity tracing back from an ancient Palaeolithic Iberian migration, now represented by the Basques so that 75% of the modern British population could (in theory) trace their ancestry back 15,000 years.[67][68]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ UK Literacy Rate 2003 [CIA] World Book, Retrieved 17 June 2013
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  9. ^ History and Lessons of Potato Late Blight, University of California
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