7 May 2020

Small families help slow UK population growth

New UK population estimates reveal a continued reduction in the growth rate, largely driven by fewer births as a result of people choosing to have smaller families.

London street crowd

Fewer births, better future

The UK population reached an estimated 66,796,807 in mid-2019, according to the latest release by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The total growth rate in the year up to mid-2019 fell to 0.5% – its lowest level in 15 years, with the fewest births since 2005.

Population Matters Director Robin Maynard said:

“These are welcome figures, especially the decline in birth rate, which appears to confirm that people are choosing smaller families. After a steady rise in the early 2000s, birth rate has almost halved since 2012, and that means a better future for those children being born.

Population is not an abstraction – more people, consuming more stuff, lessens our quality of life and puts more pressure on our threatened natural environment, as almost everyone intuitively understands. While we all want to see coronavirus, which has caused personal tragedy to many people and our care services, brought under control and lockdown ended as soon as possible, lockdown also gives us a glimpse of a Britain with fewer traffic-jams, less pollution, and with life-enhancing wildlife returning to our urban areas. Achieving a smaller, sustainable population over time and through encouraging the positive, individual choice of having smaller families is one of the ways we can 'build back better' at the end of this crisis.”

Net migration also fell relative to the previous year, due to both higher emigration and lower immigration, and the death rate was slightly lower too.

 

Variation between regions

Northern Ireland had the fastest growth rate (0.6%) due to its population being younger than the UK average. Both Scotland and Wales, which have the oldest age structure, saw more deaths than births in the year up to mid-2019.

The release also highlights the very uneven distribution of people across the UK. The highest density – in London – of 5,700 people per square kilometre, is an impressive 114 times higher than in the UK’s most rural local authorities.

At 70 people per square kilometre, Scotland has less than one sixth the density of England. On average, the UK has a more densely packed population and faster growth rate than other large countries in Europe and is expected to overtake Germany as the most populous European nation by 2050.