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BeeHive  >  BeeLines  >  New UK Population Stats

New UK Population Stats

If youd asked me what the population of the UK is Id have probably said something around 55 million. Id have been right in that, but only if Id said it back in 1971 when the population stood at 55,928,000, give or take a few. I know that now because Ive just seen the latest population data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which came out on 22nd August.

Since 1971 the UK population has increased by 8% and has risen to a grand total of 60,587,000 today. 83.8% of the population live in England, 8.4% in Scotland, 4.9% in Wales and 2.9% in Northern Ireland.

Some staggering stats leapt off the page at me while I was wading through the report. To start with the way the number of old people compares to the number of the young. In 2006 just about one person in every five in the UK is under the age of 16, but one in every six of us is already in bus-pass territory and over the age of 65!

The fact seems to be that the UK population is ageing. The population as a whole might have grown by 8% in the last thirty-five years since 1971, but the change has not happened uniformly across all age groups. The over-65s grew by 31% in that period from 7.4 million to 9.7 million, whereas the under 16s dropped by 19% from 14.2 million to 11.5 million.

By far the biggest percentage growth in population in the year from mid-2005 to mid-2006 was in the number of the very old; the over 85s. This group increased by 5.9% in that year and has now reached a record 1.2 million people over the age of 85. These guys are the post World War One baby boomers who have the post World War Two baby boomers hot on their heels. There is no similar baby boom from the 1960s following on from these two waves however, quite the opposite in fact. Even though fertility has risen recently there are still fewer people being born these days than in the 1960s.

All of this, of course, can be very worrying with large cohorts of people turning up at retirement with ever fewer people replacing them in the workforce, but its wrong to assume that being old equates to being dependent. Anyone whos worried about all this might get some peace of mind restored by re-reading a BeeLine I wrote last summer that I based on a paper by my actuarial friend Jeremy Goford. That BeeLine was called 'Crisis? What crisis? and you can get to it by clicking on the link there. Its worth understanding what dependency means and what it doesnt.

Also, and from elsewhere in the ONS stats, I see that the rate at which the population is growing these days is not reliant wholly on the rate of births, but it is significantly affected also by the growing rate of international migration. In every year since 1901 (with the exception of 1976 for some reason) there were more births than deaths in the UK; hence the slow, but steady, increase in the number of people in the 20th century. That natural increase still continues today, but since the mid 1990s international migration has become an important additional factor in the population growth rate. This is so much so that in the year mid 2005 to mid 2006 the natural change (the increase due to there being more births than deaths) accounted for just 45% of the increase in the population.

Steve Bee

30 August 2007


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