The theme of our last few blog articles has been that the populations of the major European economies will soon rely on migration for growth.  While it does not fare half as badly as Germany, Italy and the majority of Eastern European nations, statistics released last week by the Office for National Statistics show that the majority of the UK's growth now comes from migration, rather than births.

Net migration has increased the population by more than 251,000 for the past 12 years, and has been the main driver of population growth rather than the number of births over deaths.  

In comparison, natural change — the difference between the number of births and deaths — increased the population by about 200,000 more people on average a year over the past 12 years.

In 2016, the UK’s total fertility rate decreased to 1.81 children per woman, from 1.82 in 2015.  The figures again show that women increasingly delay pregnancy: The fertility rate for women aged 40 and over has now trebled since 1990 and is at its highest level since 1949. The fertility rate for women aged 35 to 39 has trebled since 1980 and is now at its highest ever level since the beginning of the time series in 1938.  Since 2004 women aged 30 to 34 have had the highest fertility of any age group; prior to this women aged 25 to 29 had the highest fertility.

The figures showed that 28.2 per cent of births in England and Wales in 2016 were to women born outside the UK, the highest level on record (it has increased every year since 1990).  Figures for 2015 showed that Poles topped the list with 22,928 babies, followed by Pakistan with 17,342, India with 13,780 and Romania with 8,752.   There are two reasons for this:

  • fertility levels are generally higher among foreign-born women
  • the foreign-born and UK-born female populations of reproductive age have different age structures, with a higher proportion of foreign-born women being aged from 25 to 34, where fertility is highest

Britain also has an ageing population, with 18 per cent of people now over 65. In response to both this and increased life expectancy, the UK Government announced last week that the rise in the pension age to 68 will now be phased in between 2037 and 2039, rather than from 2044 as was originally proposed.  Those affected are currently between the ages of 39 and 47. 

The government has said that anyone younger than that will have to wait for pension certainty.  One thing is certain: It will increasingly be the children of migrants paying those pensions.   

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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...