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Overview of the UK population - new figures released, November 2018

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The UK population is at its highest ever, new figures reveal, with figures showing an ageing population who are 'generally living longer' than ever before. In mid-2017, the population of the UK was an estimated 66 million – its largest ever – and is set to reach 73 million by 2041. 

Sarah Coates, Centre for Ageing and Demography, Office for National Statistics, said: "The UK population has doubled over the last 140 years, reaching a new high of 66 million people in 2017. We project there to be almost 73 million people in the UK by 2041.

“This growth is due to there being more births than deaths and more people moving to the UK than leaving.

“As well as growing, the population is also ageing. From looking at past patterns, we project that more than a quarter of UK residents will be aged 65 years or over within the next 50 years."

UK population figures

In mid-2017, the population of the UK reached a new high of 66 million, marking an increase of 0.6% from the previous year's total of 65.6 million – the lowest annual growth since 2004.

In future years, the UK population is set to grow further still. The projected population surpasses 70 million in 2029 and reaches 72.9 million by 2041 – increases of 6.1% and 10.4%, respectively, from 2017.

Why is the UK's population growing?

Change in population size has four components: births, deaths, immigration and emigration. 

The difference between the number of births and the number of deaths is referred to as “natural change”. When natural change is positive, there have been more births than deaths in the considered timeframe. When it is negative, there have been more deaths than births.

The difference between the number of immigrants (people moving to the UK for more than 12 months) and the number of emigrants (people leaving the UK for more than 12 months) is termed “net migration”.

In 2017, the UK experienced a natural change of 148,000, stemming from 755,000 live births and 607,000 registered deaths (Figure 2) – the highest number of deaths since 2003.

Note that the long-term trend for deaths is more stable than that of births. Due to the relative consistency in deaths, fluctuations in natural change have historically mirrored fluctuations in births.

For instance, Figure 2’s leftmost peak in natural change corresponds to the 1960s baby boom, which subsided in the 1970s. The second upturn in growth is then an “echo” of the first, whereby baby boomers themselves were having children of their own. Births peaked again more recently in 2012, at 813,000.

The gradual decline in deaths from 1985 to 2011 is regarded as a product of the “living longer” dynamic (see Section 6). With people during these years living longer than their predecessors had, numbers of deaths decreased accordingly.

The UK’s statistics for the calendar year ending December 2017 break down as follows:

  • England’s natural change was 148,000 (with 647,000 births and 499,000 deaths)

  • Northern Ireland’s natural change was 7,000 (with 23,000 births and 16,000 deaths)

  • Scotland’s natural change was -5,000 (with 53,000 births and 58,000 deaths)

  • Wales’s natural change was -1,000 (with 32,000 births and 33,000 deaths)

Read the full report on the ONS website.

QUICK LINK: Track the popularity of your name over 180 years

(images and text courtesy of the Office for National Statistics, photograph copyright Elizabeth Ann Collette)

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