According to the Office of National Statistics latest estimates, the UK population is 68,138,484 people.
The United Kingdom is the 22nd largest country in the world, the fourth largest in Europe and, until recently, was the third largest in the European Union by population.
The United Kingdom is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. 701 people live in every square mile, that’s 270 people per square kilometre.
London, the capital city, is also the largest city in the UK. In 2021, at the time of the last census, the population of London was 8,799,800 people.
Table of Contents
How many people live in the UK?
Although the overall UK population in 2023 is 68,138,484, the UK is made up of four different countries each of which has its own population.
|Country||Population (2016)||Percentage of total|
Note – the individual population counts for the individual countries of the UK do not match the total for the UK as a whole because they are based on data reported, at slightly different times, by the relevant government in each country.
UK population growth and Immigration into the UK
The rate of population growth in the UK has increased in recent years. In 2015 the population increased by 513,000 people (0.8%).
Population increases come from immigration and natural growth (the number of births minus the number of deaths. The total number of immigrants coming into the UK is offset by the number of people who emigrate from the United Kingdom each year (see British people abroad below) to reach a final population growth total for the year.
About one third of the UK population increase in recent years is a result of natural population growth – where the number of people being born in the UK is higher than the number of people dying every year. The remaining two thirds of the population increase is the result of net immigration into the United Kingdom.
About half of the people coming to the UK in 2015 were from the European Union. Recent data indicates that there are approximately 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK. This equates to 5% of the UK population. The other half came from non-EU countries.
Immigration is a contentious topic in the UK, with many people believing that it is too high. Because of this immigration was one of the most important topics during the recent referendum about whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union (often referred to as the Brexit referendum.
British people abroad
Approximately 4 million British citizens live outside of the United Kingdom. Informally, they are often referred to as British Expats.
Around a quarter (1.2 million) who were born in Britain live in other EU countries and the remaining three quarters (2.8 million) live in the rest of the world, most commonly in Commonwealth countries or the United States.
Here is a table listing the 10 most popular destinations for British expats, based on data from the UN Population Division.
|Rank||Country||Number of British|
Ethnic groups in the UK
Different parts of the UK record ethnicity in different ways in their census. The data below is from the 2021 England and Wales Census. Data from the 2022 Scotland census is expected in mid-2024, and Northern Ireland does not record ethnicity data in its census.
The Office for National Statistics data on ethnicity in England and Wales shows that ‘White’ remains the single largest ethnic group. In the 2021 census, 81.7% of people reported that they were White. This is a decrease from 86.0% in the 2011 census.
Asian is the next largest single group. In 2021, 9.3% reported that they were Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh – up from 7.5% in 2011.
Black, Black British,Black Welsh, Caribbean or African made up a further 3.3% of the population. This is a decrease compared to 2011, when it was 4.0%.
|Asian or Asian British||5.5 million||9.3%|
|Black or Black British||4.0 million||4.0%|
|Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups||2.9 million||2.9%|
|Other ethnic group||2.1 million||2.1%|
Ethnic diversity varies across the country. For example, 53.8% of the population in London is white in 2021, whereas 93.1% of people report that they are white in the North East of England and 93.9% of people are white.
The Asian population in London (20.7%) and the West Midlands (13.3%) is much higher than, for example, in Wales (2.9%) or the South West of England (2.8%).
This is illustrated in the chart below (which contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 and was first published on the gov.uk website).
Most white people in Britain are descended from a number of different ethnic groups, not all of which are indigenous to the British Isles. Historical ethnic groups include Celts and pre-Celts, Normans, Romans, Norse and Anglo Saxons. This heritage reflects the history of the British Isles, which has been invaded on a number of occasions. More recently, an increasing number come from other European countries.
The black population in Britain has roots going back to the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the majority of black immigration into the United Kingdom came in two distinct waves during the second half of the 20th century. The first wave was in the 1940s 50s and 60s from the Caribbean (for example, Jamaica) as a part of a policy to deal with Britain’s labour shortage. Since the 1980s, immigration from Africa has been higher than immigration from the Caribbean.
The British Asian population also has a long history which began in the 17th century. But, immigration from Asia in significant numbers began only in the second half of the 20th century. Manual workers and medical staff including doctors were recruited from Pakistan and India in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the Asian people who were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972 also emigrated to the UK.
Religion in the UK
The 2011 census showed that Christianity remains the dominant religion in the UK. The number of people who reported that they were Christians in the UK was 37,583,962, which is 59.49% of the total population. The number of people who report that they are Christian fell by more than 12% between 2001 and 2011, from 71.58% in 2011.
The next most common responses were either no religion (25.67%) or religion not stated (7.17%). The number of people who gave one of these answers increased from 23.18% in 2001 to 32.84% in 2011.
Islam is the second most commonly reported religion in the UK with 4.41% of the population. Hinduism (1.32%), Sikhism (0.68%), Judaism (0.43%) and Buddhism (0.41%) are the other religions of significant number reported in the census results.
Other religions were reported by 0.42% of the population, who were asked to write down the name of their religion. The most common response was Jedi Knight, which was written down by 177,000 people. The next most common responses were Pagan (57,000) and Spiritualist (39,000).
Christian churches in the UK
Recent data on the membership of different Christian churches within the UK is hard to find.
One survey carried out in 2008 reported that the Catholic Church was the largest in the UK with a membership of 1.6 million, followed closely by the Anglican Church (Church of England) with 1.44 million members.
Other Christian denominations in the UK with a significant membership were Presbyterian with 0.8 million members and the Orthodox churches with 0.4 million members.
The Church of England and other Anglican churches
The Church of England is the established state church in England, although it is not the state church in the rest of the UK.
The Church of England was established in 1534 when English King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in Rome. Although theologians had been debating some kind of split for some time, Henry VIII’s decision was primarily a pragmatic one. Because the Pope in Rome would not annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which would have allowed him to marry Anne Boleyn, the simplest solution open to him was to create a new church which he controlled.
The monarch of England (currently Queen Elizabeth II) is head of the Church of England even today. Additionally, the 26 most senior bishops have seats in the House of Lords and can therefore directly influence UK law.
Similar Anglican churches exist in Scotland, Wales and Ireland but they are not established churches or state churches and have no official state role. They, and other Anglican churches around the world, often have close ties to the Church of England but they are not a part of the Church of England nor are they governed by it.
Languages in the UK
English is most commonly spoken language in the UK, and is the UK’s de-facto official language.
The other commonly spoken indigenous languages are Scots and Welsh. Widely spoken non-indigenous languages include Polish (546,000 speakers), Panjabi (273,000 speakers) and Urdu (269,000 speakers).
Here is a table from the ONS which lists the most commonly spoken first languages in the UK in 2011.
|Rank||Language||Number of Speakers|
Note: Indigenous languages such as Welsh and Scots do not feature on this list as they were more commonly reported as second languages.
It is important to recognise that, because of patterns of immigration, the percentage of people speaking different languages varies across the country. As this chart from the ONS shows, the proportion of people in London whose first language is not English is far higher (around 20%) in London than it is in the rest of the country.
Languages indigenous to the British Isles
In England and Wales, English is spoken as the main language by 49 million people (92%). The number of people who speak English, even if it is not their first language, is higher at 98%. In Scotland, the number of people reporting that they could speak, read and write English was 94%.
Six languages in the UK have protected status – Scots, Ulster-Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and Cornish.
Scots (including Ulster Scots) is the second most widely spoken language in the UK. It is spoken by 30% of the population in Scotland (1,541,693 people) and 2% of the population in Northern Ireland (34,349). Across the UK, this means that 2.6% of the overall population speaks Scots, with varying degrees of fluency.
Welsh is the next most widely spoken language in the UK. There are around 700,000 people in the UK who can speak Welsh (just over 1% of the total population). The majority of Welsh speakers are in Wales (662,016 / 19% of the population). A further 110,000 Welsh speakers are in England and approximately 1,000 are in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Other indigenous languages are Irish (approximately 95,000 speakers in 2004), Scottish Gaelic (65,574 speakers in 2011) and Cornish (557 speakers in 2011).
There are also a number of extinct languages, including Pictish, Old and Middle English, Old Norse and Anglo-Norman.
Immigration into the UK, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries, has brought a number of new languages into the UK – notably from Asia and Europe.
According to the 2011 census, the most commonly spoken non-indigenous language in the UK was Polish, with 546,000 native speakers in England and Wales – approximately 1% of the population.
Education and literacy rate
The funding and administration of education in the UK is split between the national government and local government.
In 2015 the UK spent £89.4 billion on education funding – £43.8 billion came from the central government and the remaining £45.6 billion from local government funding.
In England, education is overseen by the Secretary of State for Education and the Department of Education, which sets national standards for education in schools (known as the National Curriculum).
Authority over education has been devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the Scottish Government, the Welsh National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Each child is expected to begin school at the beginning of the term after the child’s fifth birthday (fourth birthday in Northern Ireland).
Traditionally, compulsory schooling in the UK has extended until students are 16 years old. A recent change in the law means that, in England, anyone aged 16-18 is also now required to either stay in full time education, stay in part time education while working or volunteering for more than 20 hours per week, or begin an apprenticeship / traineeship.
The UK has a strong and internationally renowned university sector, including famous historical universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
Universities are state funded, but students must pay tuition fees (up to £9,000 per year in 2016). Students can fund their tuition fees and some living costs by taking out student loans in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, tuition fees are paid by the government and students can apply for grants to cover living costs.
There were 2,266,075 students in higher education in 2014/15. Of those students, 436,860 were foreign students, mostly from Asia (192,320) and the EU (124,575).
UK literacy rate
The Government does not record official statistics on literacy rate in the UK.
Non-governmental studies comparing the UK’s literacy rates with those in other developed countries (for example, other EU member states or the US/Canada) generally report that literacy and numeracy in the UK lags behind other developed countries.
A recent study by the OECD reported that the UK had the lowest literacy rate of any developed nation. It reported that around 20% of English 16-19 year olds have low literacy skills.
This is backed up by a report from the UK’s Literacy Trust, which explains that 16% of adults in England are “functionally illiterate”. This means that their literacy is below what is expected of the average 11 year old.
Population density in the UK
Overall population density in the UK is 259 people per square kilometre, or 671 people per square mile.
According to Eurostat, the United Kingdom is the fourth most densely populated country in the EU, after Malta (1,352.4 people per sq km), the Netherlands (500.7 people per sq km) and Belgium (370.3 people per sq km).
As you can see from the table below, England is at least three times more densely populated than any of the UK’s other three countries, with a population density of 413 people per square mile in 2013, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
|Rank||Country||Population density (per sq km)|
Greater London is the most densely populated city in the UK, with 5,360 people per sq km, followed closely by Brighton (5,304 people per sq km) and Luton (5,088 people per sq km).
Here is a table listing the most densely populated cities or urban areas in England, all of which are in the South East.
|Urban area||Population (2011)||Population Density (per sq km)|
|Brighton and Hove||474,485||5,304|
Largest cities in the UK
At the time of the last census, in 2011, the population of Greater London was 8,173,941. By 2015, Greater London’s population had increased to 8,673,713.
London’s wider urban and metropolitan areas are even larger. The London urban area, which includes nearby towns such as Slough, was 9,787,426 in 2011, and has probably passed the 10,000,000 mark since. The population of the London metropolitan area, which includes towns in the London commuter belt such Reading and Luton, was 13,879,757 in 2011.
Until the early 20th century, London was the largest city in the world, capital of not just the United Kingdom but the British Empire. Today, it is only the 21st largest city in the world, but it remains the largest city in the UK and the third most populous city in Europe.
Birmingham is the only other major city in the UK with a population of more than one million people. In 2015, the population of Birmingham was 1,111,307.
Here is a list of the ten largest cities in the UK, including the eight largest cities in England and the two largest cities in Scotland.
Other UK demographic data
Female life expectancy is 83.0 years, and male life expectancy is 79.4 years.
However, average life expectancy varies across the UK. For example, in 2012 it was reported that the average man in England would live to 78.6 years, but the average man in Scotland would live to just 75.9 years and the average man in Wales to 77. Men in Northern Ireland have the longest life expectancy – 81 years.
For more detail on life expectancy in different UK countries, see the table below:
|Country||Female life expectancy||Male life expectancy|
Life expectancy varies considerably at local level as well, and tends to be higher in the South of England than in the North.
In Kensington and Chelsea, a wealthy district of London, boys born between 2012 and 2014 could expect to live to 83.3 years, whereas boys born in Blackpool, a city in Northern England, could expect to live almost ten years less – to 74.7 years.
Boys born in Glasgow during the same period could expect an even shorter life – 73.4 years on average.
The population of the UK is ageing.
In 2014, the median age was 40.0 years, a figure which is expected to rise to 42.9 years by 2039.
Thirty years ago, in 1985, median age in the UK was just 35.4 years.
The UK’s ageing population puts increasing pressure on the country’s public services and economy.
Birth rate and death rate
Birth rate in the UK has fallen by more than a third since the 1960s.
From a 1960s peak of 18.8 births per 1,000 in 1964, the UK’s birth rate fell to a low of 11.3 births per 1,000 in 2002.
Although the birth rate increased to 12.9 births per 1,000 in 2010, it has slipped a little since, to 11.9 births per 1,000 in 2015.
The UK’s death rate has also fallen, although not as quickly – from a modern peak of 12.3 deaths per 1,000 in 1976 to 9.3 deaths per 1,000 in 2015.
(The lowest death rate in recent years was in 2011, when the rate fell to just 8.7 deaths per 1,000).
Fertility rate in the UK has also fallen over the past 50 years, from 2.95 children per woman in 1965 to 1.82 children per woman in 2014.
This is below the replacement rate (2.33 children per woman across the world, but 2.0 children per woman in industrialised countries) but higher than the EU average fertility rate which in 2014 was just 1.58 children per woman.
UK population pyramid
This UK population pyramid reflects British history since the mid 20th century.
In the pyramid you can see the impact caused by the second world war – slightly fewer men than would be expected in their eighties and nineties, and a large spike in the number of people in their mid-sixties born just after the end of the second world war.
Also visible is a bulge of people in their late forties and early fifties – the UK’s baby boomer generation.
And, finally, at the bottom of the pyramid we can see the effects of a dip in the UK’s birth rate during the early 21st century, followed by an boost in recent years.