Figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday suggest that the United Kingdom is outdoing its European neighbours in the quest to maintain its population base.  They show the highest population growth in the European Union, and the highest birth rate since 1972. 

Although, that isn’t saying much considering that the total fertility rate has been below replacement rate during the entire period.  The increase in babies is mainly due to the baby boomers’ children – born in the 1970’s and early 1980’s – now starting to have their children, rather than families increasing in size. 

The figures estimate that the population of the United Kingdom, consisting of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, was 63.7 million in mid-2012, an increase of 420,000 people since mid-2011.   The increase was a result of 254,400 more births than deaths (61% of the increase) and 165,600 more international migrants arriving than emigrants leaving (39% of the increase).  

Interestingly, London had the largest natural change of all regions with 86,000 more births than deaths, whereas Scotland had the lowest with just 4,200 more births than deaths.  London was also the destination for over a third of international migrants.

As expected, the British media has very different takes on the news, especially as the debate over immigration remains heated.  It is heartening that The Guardian headlines the news as “a blessing, not a curse”, making mention of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s recent warning that if immigration is stopped the UK’s public sector debt would rise from 74% of GDP today to 187% by about 2050 (see here for Marcus’ take on that warning).  It reports:

People are a good thing, the most precious resource in a rich economy, so the progressive-minded feel. Only misanthropists disagree or the dottier Malthusians who send green-ink tweets deploring any state assistance for child-rearing. So Thursday’s population figures from the Office for National Statistics are unalloyed good news, for young and old, for the economy and wellbeing.

However, the Mail Online received the news pessimistically, still making the increasingly outdated cry of overpopulation bringing discomfort and doom to us all, stressing that:

Measures by the Government to limit net migration are to be welcomed. However, the Government should also promote the benefits to individuals and society of smaller families.

People really do seem to have got that message thirty years ago, with a birth rate below replacement level since the early 1970’s.  I discovered this 1968 Disney family planning propaganda clip the other day (in actuality produced by the Population Council), which shows how long a strategized push for small families has been going on. Somehow Disney’s family image means that you don’t expect Donald Duck to be in cahoots with the Population Council.

In any case, if the birth rate continues to increase, it may mean that the United Kingdom will have fewer economic woes in years to come than its less fertile European neighbours.  And of course, economics aside, it will be blessed with the promise of these young lives.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...