The people who now inhabit the British Isles are descended mainly from the people who inhabited them nearly 9 centuries ago. The English nation was formed as a result of the amalgamation of the native population of the British Isles the pre-Celts and the Celts with the invaders: the Germanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, the Danes, the Normans. The last of a long succession of invaders from Scadinavia and the Continent of Europe were the Normans, a branch of the Scandinavian Vikings who, after settling in Northern France, intermarrying with the French, and assimilating their language and customs, conquered England in 1066. The language of this nation was formed only in the 14th century. It is mainly a marriage of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French, while the use of Celtic languages persisted in Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the Highlands of Scotland and in Ireland.
Today in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, English is the language predominantly spoken. In Wales, however, Welsh, a form of British Celtic, is spoken by some 20 per cent of the population (about half a million people). The Welsh Language Council, an official body, promotes the use of the language and there is a number of bilingual schools in Wales. In Scotland over 80,000 persons, mainly in the Highlands and western coastal regions, speak the Scottish form of Gaelic. A few families in Northern Ireland still speak the Irish form of Gaelic. But in general the number of people speaking the above-mentioned languages other than English is declining. The Cornish variety of Celtic is no longer effectively a living language, although there is a revival of cultural interest. For centuries the British governments promoted the spread of English at the expense of other languages. Moreover, at times it was strictly forbidden to study any of the languages of the minorities living on the British Isles. Today some of the country's ethnic minorities formed as a result of recent immigration have their own languages, normally as well as English. Among the Asian community, for example, the most usual languages are Punjabi, Gujerati, Bengali or Urdu, the languages of the Indian and Pakistani communities.
The available records do not enable any precise estimates to be made of the size of the population until the beginning of the 19th century. Censuses of the people of Great Britain have been taken regularly every 10 years since 1801, except that there was no census in 1941 because of the Second World War. The latest census was taken in 1981. It is believed, however, that at the end of the 11th century the population of Great Britain was about 2 million, while at the end of the 17th century the population was about 6.5 million. The main factor in this gradual growth of population was a slow natural increase, with high death rates and, in particular, very high infant and maternal mortality. Immigration began to play a more important role in population growth more recently, especially from Commonwealth countries.
In number of population (57.1mln1990) Great Britain holds one of the first places among the European countries. Britain ranks fourteenth in the world in terms of population. The English make up over 4/5 of the total population of the country. They inhabit England proper and many of them live in industrial cities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The proportion of the Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen is about 15 per cent. This group includes foreigners too. The inhabitants of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have preserved their culture, originality and to a certain degree their languages (in Wales and Scotland), but practically all speak English. The most intensive growth of the population of Great Britain took place in the 19th century, when the number of the inhabitants increased from 9 million to 38 million, despite mass emigration (mainly of the ruined peasants and the unemployed of the towns).
The recent tendency as regards population growth is that of extremely small growth. In fact in the period 19758 for the first years since records began (other than in war) the population fell slightly. This trend common to much of Western Europe, is mainly the result of a sharp fall in birth rates. Annual births have fallen by some 30 per cent since the mid-1960s. The upward trend was resumed in 1979. Projections for the future suggest that the traditional increase in population will be resumed, though growth will take place at a much slower rate than was expected a few years ago. Britain's total population is expected to be 58.4 mln in 2001 and 60 mln in 2020.
The country as a whole has a population density of about 233 people to the square kilometre (1989), but in England proper 363 people to the square kilometre, in Wales 137, in Scotland 66, in Northern Ireland 112.
The Highlands of Scotland, the northern Pennines and mountainous Wales are very sparsely populated. The most highly populated regions are the industrial districts: South East England with Greater London, the Midlands, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, South Wales, Clydeside in Scotland and North-East England. In some of these districts the density reaches 1,000 and even more people per one square kilometre. In Greater London, for example, it is 4,288 people per square kilometre.
Annual birth rates have fallen since the mid-1960s. The birth rates declined from 18 live births per 1,000 population in 1966 to 13.6 in 1989. The main reason accounting for the sharp drop in the birth rate is associated with the social conditions in the country: the growth of unemployment, deterioration of the living standards of the British people, social tension, expensive housing, lack of pre-school institutions, etc. As a result of the drop of the birth rate there is a substantial fall in the natural increase of the population provided that the mortality rate remains more or less stable about 12 per 1,000 population. During the last 50 years the natural increase was very small 4-6 people per thousand and even lower. Thus the country has a considerable per cent of the ageing population.
At birth the expectation of life for a man is just about 72 years and for a woman it is 78 years. K. Marx in his time pointed out the dependence of the death rate on the incomes of the population. In Britain today the average life expectancy among unskilled workers is 8 years shorter than among managers and highly qualified specialists.
The estimated age distribution of the British population in mid-1989 is roughly as follows: under 16 years, about 20 per cent; 16-64, 64 per cent; and 65 and over, 16 per cent. Some 18 per cent of the population were over the normal retirement ages (65 for men and 60 for women), compared with 15 per cent in 1961.
The main feature of the changing age structure is the increasing number of elderly people. The lot of the elderly people in Britain is a serious social problem. The majority of the aged depend vitally on their meagre pensions and in the face of inflation and cuts in social security they hardly make ends meet.
Traditionally Britain has a net outflow of people to the rest of the world. During the 100 years, from 1836 till 1936 about 11 million people left the British Isles. This mass emigration especially in the 19th century was a movement of ruined peasants, the unemployed people who hoped to find new opportunities and happiness on new territories. The migrants went mainly to North America (the USA, Canada), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, to other lands in Asia and Africa, where they settled, spreading the economic, political and cultural influence of Great Britain, as well as the English language, which became the state language of many countries. Mass emigration from Great Britain stopped during and after World War I, when the traditional receiving countries, such as the USA, Canada and other countries imposed strict limitations on immigration. There were periods when on the contrary the country experienced a large influx of people. This was in the 1930s when there was a considerable flow of refugees from continental Europe as a result of fascist persecution, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s mainly the result of a large influx of people from the West Indies and the Indian sub-continent. After the 1950s and in the 1960s considerable numbers of people entered Britain from Commonwealth countries, especially from the West Indies, Asia and Africa and settled permanently in the country. They made an important contribution to the development of the economy and the public services. British monopolies derived great profits from the exploitation of cheap migrant labour. The population of New Commonwealth (all Commonwealth countries except Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and Pakistani ethnic origin is over 2 million (about 3.6 per cent of the total population) of whom 40 per cent were born in Britain. Nearly three quarters live in the south-east and in the west Midlands. Although formally according to the Race Relations Act 1976 the migrants should be treated as equals, they suffer from race discrimination. They occupy low-status and poorly paid jobs in poor environments of the older towns (the slums), unemployment is very high among these ethnic groups. The desperate conditions of these ethnic groups found expression in the violent riots which took place in Brixton (London), Manchester, Liverpool and other cities recently. The police brutally crushed the protest movement of the coloured people of Britain. Even an official enquiry was compelled to acknowledge the abnormal conditions under which the coloured minorities live and work in Britain. This report known as the Scarman Report was compelled to acknowledge the fact that the coloured people 'are born and raised in insecure social and economic conditions and in an impoverished physical environment', which have a negative effect on their future life.
It is necessary to note that today in Britain there are also sizeable groups of Americans, Australians, Chinese and various European communities such as Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Italians and Spaniards living in Britain. In the last generation British society has therefore become more multi-racial as ethnic minority groups from almost all parts of the world have made a permanent home in the country. Although a small proportion of the total population, they represent a significant element in certain areas (in the urban centres, especially the largest towns, and in particular areas within these centres).
Regarding migration one should note that the traditional pattern of migration in Britain has been maintained recently, with the exception in 1979 and 1986 when more came than left.
There are about 6 per cent more male than female births every year. Because of the higher mortality of men at all ages, however, there is a turning point, at about 50 years of age, at which the number of women exceeds the number of men. This imbalance increases with age so that there is a preponderance of women among the elderly. In the population as a whole there are nearly 105 females to every 100 males.
Marriage trends since the 1930s have been towards a higher proportion of people marrying and an earlier age pattern. The proportion of the population of Great Britain who were or had been married rose from about 50 per cent in 1939 to 60 per cent in the 1980s, while the proportion of single persons in the population aged 16 years or over fell from 33.3 per cent to 23.4 per cent. The average age for first marriages is just over 26 for men and 24 for women with a marked fall in the proportion of church marriages: today more than 50 per cent of marriages have been solemnized by a civil ceremony in a Register office. The proportions of people divorcing are growing: in 1989 about 13 decrees of divorce were made absolute for every 1,000 married couples in England and Wales, compared with 2 in 1961, though the rates are lower in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The population of England is and has been for centuries, greater than that of all other parts of Britain. The distribution of the British population by country is shown in the following table.
Distribution of the British Population by Country (1989)
Area (sq km)
Population density (persons per sq km)
As regards the proportion of urban population Britain probably holds the first place in the world. Over 90 per cent of its population live in towns. In Britain there are 91 towns with the population of over 100 thousand people. About one third of the country's population is concentrated in the town districts, which comprise numerous merged towns and are called conurbations. The seven major metropolitan areas which have been denoted as 'conurbations' in successive population censuses accommodate a third of Great Britain's people while comprising less than three per cent of the total land area. They are: Greater London, Central Clydeside, Merseyside, South-East Lancashire, Tyneside, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire. These regions are famous for their poor and worn out residential districts and high population density and narrow streets of old towns and cities. They create very serious problems, including traffic congestion. The proportion of residents in Greater London and most of the metropolitan areas of England has recently been falling. People, particularly the well-to-do, have tended to leave city centres and conurbations because of their unhealthy environment, although such migration may not necessarily mean a change of job but rather an increase in the distance of travel to and from work. In other cases it has been a consequence of falling employment in city centres.
More than 1.5 million people left major British cities during the 10 years between the censuses of 1971 and 1981. The figures of the 1981 census indicate that the larger the city, the larger the exodus. Greater London's population fell by 756,000 to under 7 million for the first time since 1901. In some districts of London, such as Kensington and Chelsea the population fell by almost 30 per cent. Among the many reasons which have contributed to this exodus (some were referred to above) one should also point out the unhealthy environment, transport congestion, noise pollution, poor municipal services, the growing crime rate. Soaring rents and high unemployment are also important factors which drive the people out of the big cities.
In general about half the population lives in a belt across England with south Lancashire and west Yorkshire at one end, and the London area at the other, having the industrialized Midlands at its centre.
Other areas with large populations are: the central lowlands of Scotland; north-east England from north of the river Tyne down to the river Tees; south-west Wales; the Bristol area; and the English Channel coast from Poole, in Dorset, eastwards. Less densely populated areas are the eastern fringes of England between the Wash and the Thames estuary, and the far south-west.
Rural settlements of Great Britain differ from the traditional villages situated in other countries. They are located not far from towns and resemble their suburbs. They are inhabited by farm workers, clergymen, teachers, shop-keepers, old-age people. Lately there has been a strong influx of townsmen to villages, where houses are cheaper. Farmers do not live in such places. The farmers live in isolated farms scattered all over the farm land.
The development of capitalism in Britain has led to a sharp class stratification of the population. This in its turn increased the antagonism between the two main classes of British society the working class and the bourgeoisie. In 1854 K. Marx noted that in Britain there was no extensive class of peasantry, or of artisans, typical of many continental European countries. In Britain there occurred a complete break between property and labour.
There is no capitalist country in the world which has such a great percentage of workers and employees as it is in Britain. They comprise 92 per cent of the gainfully occupied population.
Despite the propaganda bluff of British ideologists that Britain is a welfare state, where there is equality and social justice this is far from true. According to the official report 'Inequality in Contemporary Britain' 1 per cent of the population of Great Britain owns 25 per cent of private property in the country and 5 per cent of the population owns 50 per cent of the property. At the same time 80 per cent of the population owns less of the national wealth than 1 per cent of the population. The bourgeois newspaper Daily Telegraph the mouthpiece of the Conservative party openly states, 'We are to rid ourselves of the illusion that postwar Britain is a country of social justice. In a free society social justice is unthinkable'.
The 1980s witnessed a steady growth of mass unemployment and a deterioration of the living standards of the people. The number of officially unemployed increased from 1.3 mln in 1979 to 3.3 mln in the mid-1980s, though trade union estimates indicated a figure of 4 mln jobless. Moreover, the number of people unemployed for more than a year increased notably. Especially hard hit are the regions of the North, the North-West, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The number of poor people in the country reached about 12 mln. Statistics indicated that in 1987 every third adult in Britain was living on the verge or under the official poverty level. There are more than 200 thousand homeless in the country. Income tax eats away 30 per cent of the wages of the working people. At the same time as a result of the incentives created by the Conservative government, the profits and dividends of the large firms and corporations soared, and the rich became still richer while the poor poorer. The number of millionaires increased from 1982 to 1987 by 40 per cent reaching the figure of 7 thousand. Simultaneously, in the same period the number of homeless increased by 38 per cent.
Today the total working population is over 26 mln of which workers and employees comprise about 22 mln, the self-employed (that is owners of big and small enterprises, farmers, etc.) exceed 1.5 mln.
Civil employment is as follows (the proportion engaged in different industries and services, per cent):
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
Mining and quarrying
Gas, electricity and water
Transport and communications
Professional, financial, scientific and other services
National and local government services
Employers and self-employed (all industries and services)
The most notable trend in the employment pattern during the last years has been the growth of people employed in services. This is a typical feature which is observed in all developed countries. Such developments reflect improved labour efficiency in industry, a change of employment patterns caused by growth of high technology industries and a comparative decline of the old traditional industries. Hence surplus labour is released and much of it can be directed to services. Another important factor is the growth of the role of science and technology in the life of the economy. International tourism also boosted the development of the service sector. The capitalists besides political parties have their own industrial organization which deals with the problems of management, industry, labour relations, employment, etc. This organization is known as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) with the central headquarters and local organizations all over the country.