New statistics show that by 2050 the UK will not only have better economic growth than the rest of Europe, but it will be the largest country in the continent by population. Currently its population stands at 65 million people, but by 2045 it is expected to reach 76 million. By 2050, at 77 million, the UK’s population will be larger than Germany’s and France’s, both currently more populous than the UK. Not only will this population be larger, but it will also be made up of more working-aged people than France or Germany. This in itself goes a long way to explain its brighter economic future.

However it is important to recognize that the UK’s growth is mainly due to an ageing population and immigration, rather than new births.  Projecting future population is difficult, and involves making assumptions around the three key components of population change: fertility, mortality and migration. 

Longer life expectancy and a low birth rate mean that, although better placed than its rivals demographically, the UK will still be home to a much older population by 2050. Those aged over 65 will make up nearly a quarter of the population in 2050, while the proportion of those in the 15-64 year age group will decline in the coming decades, after remaining stable for the last 40 years. Greater numbers of older people will have to be supported by fewer working people. 

Immigration is also currently the biggest contributor to population growth rather than natural change (births and deaths).  Between 2004 and 2015 the net migration figure averaged 250,000 people per year, more than the change due to natural growth.  More than half (53%) of the increase of the UK population between 1991 and 2014 was due to the direct contribution of net migration.  Immigrants are also largely propping up the UK’s birth rate of 1.9 children per woman (still below replacement rate but higher than in other areas of Europe).  Statistics show that one in four mothers in the UK was actually born abroad, a level which has been steadily increasing since 1990.  

Thus we can expect to see an older, increasingly diverse UK in the future.

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...