The 2011 Census illustrates how the UK is almost four separate countries, well more like three-and-a-half actually – Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, with Wales hanging onto England’s coat-tails. I’m allowed to say that, being half-Welsh myself. The questions asked, and the schedule of analysis and publication varies because each nation – and I use that word deliberately - has its own Statistical Office. At the moment, Scotland has only published a summary of its population, England and Wales reveal more, while Northern Ireland has, as far as I can see, opened its kimono completely, or would have if any Japanese lived there. It might all sound trivial, but it’s another official acknowledgement that the UK is, most definitely, three or four separate countries – almost.
There were 56 questions in 2011. Apart from the obvious “Who are you?” which needed 13 answers to find out, most were concerned with daily life: work and how we travelled there, the kind of house we lived in, the number of cars we owned etc. But there was also an attempt to explore ethnicity, nationality, and, just as important, “national identity.” As they coyly put it: “Which nationality do you think you are?” There was also an optional question on religion. It’s those last few, metaphysical questions that I want to focus on. As for the rest, there are links at the bottom of this article to get you to the various census reports.
The total population of the UK in 2011 was 63.1 million people, broken down as follows:
- 1.8M in Northern Ireland
- 3.1M in Wales
- 5.3M people in Scotland
- 53M, the lion’s share, in England
Three headlines from Northern Ireland (NI)
- 1. Its population is 98% white.
- 2. Of people who profess a religion – 94% of respondents – 51% are protestant and 48% are Catholic.
- 3. The main language is English; 1% converse regularly in Polish; and 0.24% in (Irish) Gaelic.
Without getting in too deep, NI exists because of that figure: 51% Protestant v. 48% Catholic. When Ireland became self-governing, in 1921, the Protestant majority in the north (sometimes called Ulster) was much larger than today. The Ulstermen refused to leave the UK so the island was divided roughly along religious lines. Ever since, Irish Republicans have fought (literally) to re-unite the two countries. Recent, interminable, peace talks between all the parties have seemingly parked the problem until the people of NI agree they want to leave the Union of UK countries. Given the higher birth-rate amongst Catholics, the Republican expectation was that the Catholics would eventually be in the majority and would choose to join the rest of Ireland, which is 93% Catholic. The potential flaw in that logic, according to the Census, is that “Republican” and “Catholic” are not necessarily synonymous.
For the first time, the Census effectively asked, “What nationality do you think you are?” and gave a multiple-choice set of options; respondents could tick as many as they liked, so the numbers add up to more than 100%. The results show that less than 3 in 10 people count themselves as Irish.
Here is the breakdown of the nationalities that people chose to be:
Three headlines from England and Wales
- 1. The British are in the minority. The country is full of English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, and others.
- 2. People born in Poland make up 1% of the population.
- 3. Jedi Knights are recanting. The religion has slipped from 4th most popular in 2001 down to 7th in 2011. More accurately, it slipped from 5th to 8th, as the “none” religion came second both times.
Between 2001 and 2011, the population of England and Wales increased by 4M people. Before you get carried away by the idea that we’ve all been at it like rabbits, the number of inhabitants who were not born in the UK increased from 4.7M to 7.6M, so “foreigners” now make up 13% of our population. The most startling growth is by the Poles, from 58,000 in 2001 to 579,000 in 2011.
In 2004, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic all joined the European Union (EU) which allows free movement of people between countries. Most of the existing EU states were sensible enough to demand a transition period when “new” citizens were not allowed to work in old countries. The UK and Ireland were the only ones that didn't do this. Apparently someone estimated that we would only attract fifty-thousand migrants in total from the new EU states so we needn't worry!
In the EU, there is no easy way of knowing how many people are in a country, or who they are. At most, you wave your [EU] passport at the border, if you can find it – the border not the passport, that is. I remember one colleague getting into France on the strength of his IBM identification badge alone – he’s still trying to get back into the UK, however. So the population increase of 4M between 2001 and 2011 is not just made up of immigrants and the difference between births and deaths, there’s also an unknown number of emigrants, like me, who have deserted the mother country. There are hundreds of thousands of Brits living in the sun, lured by the promise of cheap wine, golf, and, in Spain in the 1980’s, no extradition treaty owing to political arguments about the status of Gibraltar. Not for nothing was the Costa del Sol known as the "Costa del Crime."
The ethnic makeup of England and Wales is principally “white”, a label which covers 86% of the population. Asians, from India, Pakistan, and Hong King, and people of black African/Caribbean descent are the two largest minority groups. There’s a wealth of difference by geographic area; London, in particular, is most ethnically diverse, and some industrial areas, like the West Midlands, are also mixed.
Ethnic groups by English regions, and Wales, Census 2011 (percentages):
As I have mentioned, I am a citizen of the United Kingdom, my nationality is British, but, beneath all that, I’m a true-born Englishman. Over the last 20 years, there’s been a major upsurge in nationalism in the UK, largely driven by the Scots who now have their own parliament and manage most of their own internal affairs. In 2014, Scotland will hold a referendum to decide whether they want to leave the UK altogether. I’m not joking! As a consequence, the English have started to ask themselves whether they would be better off leaving the UK too. The Census attempted to explore this nationalistic upsurge by asking us who we thought we were; which country did we belong to?
Much as I hate to admit it, Norman Tebbitt – a British Conservative politician and “semi-house-trained polecat” as one member of parliament described him – came up with a sensible “national identity” test. Despite our image of politeness, one thing the British are good at is carefully cussing-out their enemies. Mr. Tebbitt’s question was: “If England were playing India (or even Poland) at Cricket, which team would you support?”
But there was no mention of Cricket on the Census form. Just boxes to tick according to your preferences, and you could choose more than one, so there are British/Welsh, Scots/Irish, and English/English. I went for the full monty, almost, and ticked English, Welsh, and wrote-in Irish.
The national identity question reveals all sorts of wonderful things. Even though it was a write-in, 14% of the people who live in the county of Cornwall identified themselves as Cornish. You can always tell a Corn, they look sort of pasty. Which reminds me, you should never, ever, ask a man if he’s from Yorkshire. If he is, he’ll tell you soon enough. If he’s not, you’ll only embarrass him. For the few people who are willing to admit they've never heard of the county, think Texas without a cricket team and you’re half-way there, though a true-born Yorkshireman, or woman, would probably disagree.
Overall, in England, 70% of the population said they were English, 30% said they were British, and 10% said they were “other”. The astute will have noticed that adds up to 110%, accounted for by awkward people like me who ticked several boxes.
Those numbers are somewhat coloured by our Capital City, which could be regarded as the 5th nation of the UK. If you've visited London, you’ll know it’s a culturally diverse polyglot of a place, very different from the rest of the country. Curiously, it has nearly as many British people as English, and more than a quarter of the population is “other”. The rest of England is just that, English!
National Identity, English regions, and Wales, Census 2011 (percentages)
The Religious headlines can be summed up as "Christianity loses, 'no religion' gains". Muslims also increased substantially but from a very low base.
Religious groups, Census 2011 (percentages)
….the vexatious question of a woman’s age, and a man’s, too. In every age-band up until 24 years old, there are slightly more men than women, but in every band thereafter, there are more women than men. No explanation. It’s as if, on their 25th birthday, one man in every hundred is abducted by Aliens. Or have they decided that being a toy-boy is the way to a woman’s heart so knock a few years off their age? Maybe women want to be thought of as more mature so stick a few years on. Whatever it is, there are vacancies for a few younger women and older men if anyone’s interested. Your Country Needs You!
To read more details about the Census, click the links below.
Jon holds a university degree in Psychology and previously traveled the world for his job with IBM Software Development Laboratory. He now lives in Ireland, where he is retired and pursing varied personal interests.