United Kingdom Population

1. Population

Britain has a diverse population that includes people with connections to every continent of the world. The ethnic origins of this population have been complicated by immigration, intermarriage, and the constant relocation of people in this highly developed industrial and technological society. Nevertheless, a few particulars about the historical formation of the population are noteworthy.

Early Ethnic Groups

Roman Britain Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 bc to conquer the native peoples, called Britons. The native tribes resisted subjugation for several decades, and annihilated a Roman garrison, at what is now York, in the 2nd century ad. Roman Emperor Hadrian began building a wall to keep the warlike northern tribes out of Roman territory. Many ruins exist of the wall, called Hadrian’s Wall. The Antonine Wall was constructed farther north 20 years later.© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Britain’s predominant historical stock is called Anglo-Saxon. Germanic peoples from Europe—the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes—arrived in Britain in massive numbers between the 5th and 7th centuries ad. These people tended to be tall, blond, and blue-eyed. Their language became the foundation of the basic, short, everyday words in modern English. These groups invaded and overwhelmed Roman Britain, choosing to settle on the plains of England because of the mild climate and good soils. Native Britons fought the great flood of Germanic peoples, and many Britons who survived fled west to the hill country. These refugees and native Britons were Celts who had absorbed the earliest peoples on the island, the prehistoric people known as Iberians. Celts tended to be shorter than Anglo-Saxons and have rounder heads. Most had darker hair, but a strikingly high percentage of Celts had red hair.

United Kingdom Population

Total Population 60,270,708 (2004)
Population Growth Rate 0.29 percent (2004)
People per sq km 250 (2004)
People per sq mi 646 (2004)
Urban Population 89 percent (2002)
Rural Population 11 percent (2002)
Source: U.S. Census International Programs Center

After the Anglo-Saxon conquest, the Celts remained in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the West Country (the southwestern peninsula of Britain), where Celtic languages are still used to some extent and Celtic culture is still celebrated. This geographic separation between the Germanic Anglo-Saxons and the Celts has broken down over the centuries as people have migrated and intermarried.

A substantial number of Scandinavians raided and settled in Great Britain and Ireland during the 9th century. By then the Anglo-Saxons had established agricultural and Christian communities, and eventually they succeeded in subduing and integrating the Scandinavians into their kingdoms. In 1066 the Normans, French-speaking invaders of Norse origin, conquered England, adding yet another ethnic component. Although the Normans were the last major group to add their stock to the British population, waves of other foreigners and refugees have immigrated to Britain for religious, political, and economic reasons. Protestant French sought refuge in the 17th century, sailors of African ancestry came in the 18th century, and Jews from central and eastern Europe immigrated in the late 19th century and during the 1930s and late 1940s.

Immigration After World War II

Most British people attribute their origins to the early invaders, calling themselves English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, or Ulsterites. The Ulsterites are an ethnically controversial group—some claim they are Scottish and others identify themselves as Protestant Irish. The remaining share of the population are minorities who arrived, for the most part, in the decades following the end of World War II in 1945.

These minorities—Chinese, Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, and Caribbean people of African ancestry—came to Britain in substantial numbers after 1945. Immigration from the South Asian subcontinent (India and Pakistan) stabilized in the 1990s, but immigration from African countries continued to rise. By the late 1990s more than half of the people in these categories had been born in the United Kingdom. These newer ethnic groups tend to live in the more urban and industrial areas of England, especially in London, Birmingham, and Leeds. It is estimated that 60 percent of black Britons live in the London area, along with 41 percent of the Asian Indian population.

Although population censuses have been taken in the United Kingdom every decade since 1801, the 1991 census was the first to include a question on ethnic origin. More than 94 percent of the population is described as white. According to the most recent estimates, based on 1994 statistics, Asian Indians make up 1.5 percent of the British population; Pakistanis, 0.9 percent; Bangladeshis, 0.3 percent; Chinese, 0.3 percent; Caribbeans, 0.08 percent; and Africans, 0.03 percent.

Irish immigration to Britain is unique. The Irish have migrated to Great Britain for centuries and continue to do so. If their descendants are included along with the 2.4 percent counted as ethnic Irish living in Great Britain today, they form a large component of the British population. Originally the Irish migrated to Britain to perform hard labor, such as building the railroads, but in recent years college graduates with high-tech skills are making up a higher percentage of Irish immigrants. Some live in largely Irish communities and others are quickly and completely absorbed into mainstream society. All children born to Irish parents in Britain are called British. Any citizen of Ireland who settles in Britain automatically has British citizenship.

The United Kingdom is generally a prosperous, well-educated, and tolerant society, and ethnic differences have sparked relatively little violence and hostility. Even so, black and Asian populations tend to cluster in certain urban neighborhoods, where economic and social disadvantages have become pronounced. There was significant rioting in the 1980s, which was attributed to several causes. One factor was tension between the predominantly white police force and the poorest ethnic communities. Another was competition between unskilled whites and unskilled workers from ethnic minorities. Still another factor was the resentment by white middle-class businesspeople, particularly smaller shopkeepers, of the keen competition presented by Asians, who tend to work long hours and have support from family members and members of their own ethnic community in running their businesses.

Integration of these diverse ethnic groups into the workforce, as well as socialization into the broader society, including intermarriage, has been remarkably smooth. Percentages of employment for various ethnic minorities and whites are generally similar. Many individuals from ethnic minorities hold managerial and professional positions, and several sit in Parliament. Local and national government programs exist to seek fairness and justice for ethnic minorities. Educational programs and the law bolster equal opportunity. The Race Relations Act of 1976 makes it illegal to discriminate against any person because of race, color, nationality, or origin, and it is a criminal offense to incite racial hatred.

Demographic Trends

United Kingdom Vital Statistics

Life Expectancy 78.3 years (2004)
Birth Rate per 1,000 people 10.9 (2004)
Death Rate per 1,000 people 10.2 (2004)
Source: U.S. Census International Programs Center

From the 18th century until well into the 19th century, Britain’s population soared as the death rate dropped and the birth rate remained high. During this period the total population increased from approximately 6 million in the 1760s to 26 million in the 1870s. Toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century the birth rate stabilized and the death rate remained low. The population took on the characteristics of a modern, developed, and prosperous state. Family size decreased and the median age of the population rose. Compared to the rest of the world, the UK has a smaller percentage of younger people and a higher percentage of older people, with 20.5 percent over the age of 60; those under the age of 15 years make up only 19.5 percent of the population. Life expectancy in 2004 was 76 years for men and 80.8 years for women.

This pattern is expected to continue. Modern European nations tend to have populations that either renew themselves or grow slowly, rather than populations that grow dramatically as they do in present-day Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The British government has more strictly controlled immigration in recent decades, and emigration has continued steadily. Nevertheless, the population of the UK is expected to continue growing slowly.

Population Statistics

United Kingdom Principal Cities

City Population
London 7,172,036 (2001)
Birmingham 976,400 (2001 estimate)
Leeds 715,500 (2001 estimate)
Glasgow 578,700 (2001 estimate)
Sheffield 513,100 (2001 estimate)
Source: Europa Yearbook.

The United Kingdom has a population of 60,270,708 (2004 estimate), with an average population density of 250 persons per sq km (646 per sq mi). The population density of the United Kingdom is one of the highest in the world, exceeding most Asian and European nations. England is the most populated part of the United Kingdom, with 49,561,800 people (2002), which means more than four-fifths of the United Kingdom’s population resides in England. It is also the most densely populated portion of the United Kingdom, with a population density of 380 persons per sq km (984 per sq mi). Scotland possesses 5,054,800 people, and a population density of 64 persons per sq km (166 per sq mi). Wales has 2,918,700 people, with a population density of 141 persons per sq km (365 per sq mi). Northern Ireland’s population is 1,696,600, and it has 120 persons per sq km (311 per sq mi).

Edinburgh, Scotland Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and its second largest city. The view here is of the city with the hills south of the Firth of Forth.Arvind Garg

Britain’s population is overwhelmingly urban, with 89.4 percent living in urban areas and 10.6 percent living in rural areas. The Industrial Revolution built up major urban areas, and most of Britain’s people live in and around them to this day. England’s population is densest in the London area, around Birmingham and Coventry in the Midlands, and in northern England near the old industrial centers of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle upon Tyne. In the 1980s and 1990s southern England, particularly the southeast, became a center of population growth, due in large part to the growth of the high-tech and service sectors of the economy.

City Hall, Belfast Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. The city is also an important manufacturing center, famous for its shipbuilding and textile industries. The majestic City Hall building, shown here, is a landmark located in Donegall Square in the center of Belfast.The Stock Market/Jose Fuste Raga

In Wales two-thirds of the people live in the industrial southern valleys. In Scotland three-quarters of the people live in the central lowlands, around Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east. About half of the people living in Northern Ireland reside in the eastern portion, in Belfast and along the coast.

The population of Greater London is about 7 million (1995 estimate), making it by far the most populous city in the United Kingdom. It is the seat of government, center of business, and the heart of arts and culture. Birmingham is the second largest city, with 976,400 people. Other large cities in the United Kingdom include Leeds with 715,500, Glasgow with 578,700, and Sheffield with 513,100. Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, has a population of about 449,000; Cardiff, the capital of Wales, has 305,200 people; and Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, has a population of 277,200.

2. Climate

(Average Daily Lows And Highs)
(Average Monthly)
London Edinburgh London Edinburgh
January 0° C (33° F)
7° C (44° F)
0° C (33° F)
6° C (43° F)
50 mm (2 in) 60 mm (2 in)
July 11° C (52° F)
22° C (71° F)
10° C (51° F)
19° C (66° F)
60 mm (2 in) 80 mm (3 in)

The Atlantic Ocean has a significant effect on Britain’s climate. Although the British Isles are as far north in latitude as Labrador in Canada, they have a mild climate throughout the year. This is due to the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water that flows up from the Caribbean past Britain. Prevailing southwesterly winds moving across this warmer water bring moisture and moderating temperatures to the British Isles. The surrounding waters moderate temperatures year-round, making the UK warmer in winter and cooler in summer than other areas at the same latitude. Great Britain’s western coast tends to be warmer than the eastern coast, and the southern regions tend to be warmer than the northern regions. The mean annual temperature in the far north of Scotland is 6°C (43°F), and in warmer southwestern England it is 11°C (52°F). In general, temperatures are ordinarily around 15°C (60°F) in the summer and around 5°C (40°F) in the winter. Temperatures rarely ever exceed 32°C (90°F) or drop below -10°C (14°F) anywhere in the British Isles. In general, frosts, when the temperature dips below 0°C (32°F), are rare.

Ocean Currents The major surface currents in the world’s oceans are caused by prevailing winds. The currents may be cold, as in the instance of the West Wind Drift, or warm, as the Gulf Stream. Currents circulate in paths called gyres, moving in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and a counterclockwise direction in the southern hemisphere.© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean bring clouds and large amounts of moisture to the British Isles. Average annual precipitation is more than 1,000 mm (40 in), varying from the extremes of 5,000 mm (196 in) in the western Highlands of Scotland to less than 500 mm (20 in) in the driest parts of East Anglia in England. The western part of Britain receives much more moisture than the eastern areas. It rains year-round, and in the winter the rain may change to snow, particularly in the north. It snows infrequently in the south, and when it does it is likely to be wet, slushy, and short-lived. Southern Britain has experienced episodes of drought in recent years, although historically these are rare occurrences. Some regard these episodes as indicators of global climatic changes.

The climate has affected settlement and development in Britain for thousands of years. The mild, wet climate ensured that thick forests rich in game, as well as rivers and streams abundant with fish, were available to prehistoric hunters and gatherers. Britain was regarded as a cold, remote, and distant part of the ancient Roman Empire in the first few centuries ad, so relatively few Romans were motivated to move there for trade, administrative, or military reasons. Preindustrial settlements clustered in southern England, where the climate was milder, the growing season longer, and the rich soil and steady rainfall produced bountiful harvests. Successive waves of invaders made the plains of southern England their primary objective. After the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, populations grew enormously in areas with rich resources beneath the ground, particularly coal, even though these resources were sometimes located in the colder, harsher northern regions of England or the western Lowlands of Scotland.

3. Geographical Components and Borders

The United Kingdom is bordered on the south by the English Channel, which separates it from the continent of Europe. It is bordered on the east by the North Sea, and on the west by the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The United Kingdom’s only land border with another nation is between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

United Kingdom Dependencies

British Antarctic Territory
British Indian Ocean Territory
British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
Pitcairn Island
Saint Helena
South Georgia Islands
South Sandwich Islands
Turks and Caicos Islands

England is the largest, most populous, and wealthiest division of the United Kingdom. It makes up 130,410 sq km (50,352 sq mi) of the United Kingdom’s total 244,110 sq km (94,251 sq mi). The area of Scotland is 78,790 sq km (30,420 sq mi), the area of Wales is 20,760 sq km (8,020 sq mi), and the area of Northern Ireland is 14,160 sq km (5,470 sq mi). This means that England makes up 53.4 percent of the area of the United Kingdom, Scotland 32.3 percent, Wales 8.5 percent, and Northern Ireland 5.8 percent.

United Kingdom Area

Sq km 244,110
Sq mi 94,251
Sq km 240,880
Sq mi 93,004
Km 12,429
Mi 7,723
Sources: UK Annual Abstract of Statistics

The United Kingdom contains a number of small islands. These include the Isle of Wight, which lies off of England’s southern coast; Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales; the Isles of Scilly in the English Channel; the Hebrides archipelago to the west of Scotland, consisting of the Inner and the Outer Hebrides; the Orkney Islands to the northeast of Scotland; and the Shetland Islands farther out into the North Sea from Scotland.

Several dependencies and dependent territories are associated with the United Kingdom. The dependencies, located close to Britain, are the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the Channel Islands off the northern coast of France. These dependencies, while not technically part of the United Kingdom, maintain a special relationship with it. The Channel Islands were once part of the Duchy of Normandy and retain much of their original French culture. The Isle of Man, controlled by Norway during the Middle Ages, came under English rule in the 14th century. Both dependencies are largely self-governing and have their own legislative assemblies and systems of law. Britain is responsible for their international relations and defense.

Britain’s dependent territories are scattered throughout the world and are the remains of the former British Empire. They are generally small in area and without many resources. Once considered colonies, they have opted to remain under British control for a variety of reasons. Today Britain assists the territories economically, with the understanding that they may become independent when they wish. Most are locally self-governing, although the queen appoints a governor for each territory who is responsible for external affairs and internal security, including the police and public service. The ultimate responsibility for their government rests with the foreign and commonwealth secretary, a minister in the British Cabinet. The United Kingdom has experienced difficulties with some of its territories—Argentina has made claims to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and Spain has made claims to Gibraltar. China’s claim to the former dependent territory of Hong Kong was satisfied in July 1997 when Britain’s lease ran out and China assumed control of the area.


1. United Kingdom Population

2. Climate

3. Geographical Components and Borders


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