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July 14, 2008 / C H Thompson

Demography in the UK

Previously we’ve looked at trends in relation to divorce, marriage, cohabitation as well as trends (trend is an emerging pattern of change) in the concept of childhood.

Sociologists use the Office for National Statistics in order to examine data so they can explore trends over time. This ONS link provides interactive data on population trends in the UK between 1911 and 2011. The graph in the link shows emerging trends in population growth, births, deaths and family size known as demographics. This paper uk demographic trends discusses the various demographic trends on the family. The reasons for these changing demographic trends are examined in greater depth here.

Population growth

in 1901 UK population was 38.2m by 2006 it had grown to 60.6m. What has driven this population growth is natural change, every year since 1901 there’s been more births than deaths.

However since 2001 and 2005 other factors have driven population growth, with an average annual increase of 182,000 people in the population due to migration compared to an increase of 92,000 through natural change. Projected figures for the UK’s population through to the middle of this century are played out in this Office for National Statistics animation.


  • Actual births – overall there’s been a decline in the number of live births. In 1901 there were nearly 1.1m in 2005 there were 723,000
  • Birth rates – these are measured in relation to the number of live births per thousand of the population per year. So if you have a birth rate of 28 then 28 live babies were born for each thousand members of the population in that year. The UK birth rate has fallen from an average of 28 in 1901 to 12 in 2005. So what does this tell you?
  • Fertility rate – this refers to the average number of children a woman would have in her lifetime. This has declined from 2.95 in the 1960s ‘baby-boom’ to a record low of 1.63 in 2001 rising to 1.8 children in 2006 – this video explains factors influencing UK fertility rates


  • Deaths/mortality rates – the actual numbers of people dying in the UK has remained fairly even despite a rising population. In 1901 there were 632,000 deaths while in 2005 there were 582,000 deaths. Though the number of deaths is consistent what else does this figure tell you?
  • Death rate – like the birth rate, the death rate this is measured per thousand. In 1901 it was 18.4 whereas in 2005 it was 9.4.
  • Infant mortality rate – again this figure is per thousand and is measured in live births. Infant mortality rate in the UK has fallen from 142 in 1901 to 5.1 in 2005. Further reading here
  • Life expectancy – this is how long a person can expect to live. In 1901 it was 49 years by 2005 it was 81 years for females. Life expectancy does vary from country to country and within the different  regions of a particular country. See the following link for further details of demographic trends.

Family size – family size infographics

  • There were 7.7 million families with dependent children in the UK in 2012, 1 in 7 of which had three or more dependent children
  • Married couples had a higher average number of dependent children in their family than other family types, at 1.8 children per family compared with 1.7 on average
  • The UK has a higher percentage of households with three or more children than three-quarters of European Union countries


the UK like most Western societies has an aging population. The predicted growth areas for the UK’s population are played out in this Office of National Statistics animation. This demographic change, along with new family forms (family diversity), are also impacting upon the position of older people within families.

  • it is increasingly argued that families will be increasingly characterized by multi-generational bonds beyond the household, particularly between grandparents and grandchildren
  • recent UK figures suggest that around a 30% of the UK population are grandparents and will remain so for an average of 25 years (Harper, 2005)
  • 75%  of the UK population will at some stage attain grandparenthood (Dench and Ogg, 2002)
  • the expansion of the grandparent role across the span of an individual’s life, it is likely to occur while people are still engaged in numerous other social roles including work, associational and other family roles.

Some of the reasons behind these demographic changes are available.
Return to family overview

Visit here for more Office for National Statistics animations

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