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UK population rises by over 400,000

The population of the UK rose by 408,000 in the year to mid-2008, giving a total of 61,383,000. This amounted to an increase of 0.7%. This compares with a growth rate of 0.2% from 1981-91; 0.3% from 1991-2001; and, 0.5% since 2001. This is an increase of two million people living in the UK in the past 8 years.


Why such an increase? Was it all due to increased immigration? Well, actually it wasn’t. For the last ten years net migration has been the main contributor to population change, but last year it was due to “natural change”.  This refers to the difference between births and deaths. In fact we experienced a falling death rate and an increasing birth rate. Natural change last year accounted for 54% of the growth in population.


The changes over the last ten years can be seen in the figure below.

Components of population change in the UK. Source:ONS

Components of population change in the UK. Source:ONS


The increase in the birth rate came as something of a surprise – although probably not to the women who gave birth! The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for 2008 gives an average of 1.97 children per woman in England and Wales. This is the seventh consecutive increase following on from a low point of 1.63 in 2001. The TFR has not exceeded the current level for 35 years.


It appears that there have been increases in fertility rates in all age groups. Surprisingly the biggest percentage increase of 5.0% was in the group of women aged 40 and over. The number of live births to women in this category has doubled over the past ten years and reflects the increasing number of women enjoying careers before motherhood and the growth in IVF treatments. There was also a continuing rise in the number of children born to mothers who themselves were born outside of the UK, reaching 24% of the total. This compares with 14% ten years ago.


The increase in fertility rates can be seen as a positive factor for the UK economy as many advanced countries are experiencing an increasingly ageing population. This will mean that in years to come we will a growth in our workforce which implies that there will be greater contributions through the tax system to enable us to support those in retirement.


Net migration contributed to 186,000 of population growth in the year to mid-2008. There was a fall in UK residents emigrating, probably affected by the crash in the housing market and the current difficulty in selling. Also, the ubiquitous “Polish plumber” seems to be making his way home. The figures show that the number of people entering the UK from the eight countries of Eastern Europe which have joined the EU since 2004, fell by 28% to 79.000. At the same time, those returning home increased by over 50% to 66,000.


Many of these immigrants only planned to come to the UK for a short period and the recession has persuaded them to go back home. Also, the government has been operating a strict points-based system for immigrants from outside the EU which has also contributed to a slowdown in immigration growth.

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Posted in Immigration, Population

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