2011 Census Reveals Significant Changes to Social Structure

Yesterday the Office of National Statistics released the data from the 2011 census which showed that the demographic makeup of the UK has shifted significantly in a range of areas.  While the hard statistics on the economy give us key information on how the UK economy is performing this demographic data gives us the information on the underlying trends in the UK population and some insight into how these might change the economic and business environment.

Ethnic structure of the UK

The UK is and always has been ethnically very mixed as new immigrant populations get absorbed into the  wider population.  Very often our perception of immigration is inaccurate with first generation immigrants making up a relatively small proportion of the total population, however the census data shows that this has jumped to 13% in 2011 from 9% in 2001.  Total immigration to the UK between 2001 and 2011 is almost tripled on the previous 10 year period.  By far the largest increase in first generation immigrants were the Polish immigrants making up  1% of the UK population, slightly fewer than those from India accounting for 1.2% and slightly more than Pakistan which accounted for 0.9%.

As a society we have been very aware of this change and the growth in immigration and it has caused concern and a massive growth in far right political activity, which is not a good thing for society as a whole.  However from an economic perspective these changes could be seen as positive, particularly when we consider that the majority of first generation migrants are economically active and contribute to the economy through work and investment.  Unemployment statistics would suggest that this is the case with low levels of unemployment and a growing number of jobs in the UK.


There has always been a degree of ambivalence regarding the census’s enquiry into religion as traditionally christianity expressed as ‘Church of England’ has been a default position, the 2011 census still shows that Christians still make up the majority (59.3%), but this was a massive decrease from the 71% in 2001.  However more importantly about 25% of the population declared that they had no religion an increase from 14.8% in 2001.  Muslims only made up 4.8% of the UK population, but this was an increase of over 50% on 2001, however these does not reflect the specific communities where muslims might well be in the majority.

It might be that this area of the demographic make up of the UK is  more worrying, we are all aware of the tensions that flare up within specific communities between religious groups, however this is very much been the case over time, as it were the growing pains of a society.  Much more significant is the increasing growth in those who profess no religion, while some of these might hold other beliefs and adhere to other ethical codes or frameworks such as humanists I would guess that the majority of  growth results from people genuinely having no belief structure.

If there is an increasing percentage of society without a religious belief what is this being replaced by?  Like it or not a great deal of good is done in society by religious groups providing welfare and support, increasingly important with government opting out of it’s role in these areas.  So religion is an important factor in creating a cohesive, stable society.  Is there any evidence that there are areas of breakdown? I would suggest all too many – the riots and looting that took place in inner cities this year, professionals acting in their own interest in banking and other areas, politicians fiddling their expenses, newspapers invading the privacy of individuals.  I am of course not suggesting that religion is the only cohesive force, politics and nationalism hold together society, however I think that religion has always been a key factor in the UK if understated.

Home Ownership

For the first time the percentage of people owning their own home in the UK dropped by 4%, but there were still 64% (14.9 million) households living in their own home and 31% owned these outright.  However at the same time households living in private rented accommodation increased from 6% in 2001 to 15% in 2011.

This represents a significant change in the economic structure of the society, possibly reducing the discretionary spend of many households as they priorities home purchase or spend a relatively larger percentage of income on housing in the form of rent. The UK has always aspired to home ownership and due to poor supply housing costs are higher than in other EU states.

Other Headlines

Total population: The UK population increased by 3.6 Million to around 49.5 million in 2011 (↑ 7.2%)

One in six people in the UK are 65 or older.

Car ownership increased from 11 cars per 10 households to 12 cars per 10 households.

2011 Census details on ONS site

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