Changes in the UK population since 1900

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Family size

Family size fell during the early 20th century, then increased towards the mid-20th century. In 1900 women had an average of 3.5 children during their reproductive years, but women born in the 1920s had only 2.07 children (due to WW2). It rose after this to 2.46 for women born in 1934 (baby boom after WW2).

Fell again later in the 20th century - for women born in 1955 it was 2.03 children.

Expected to fall even further - women born in the 1980s are projected to have an average of 1.74 children.

So more women are having fewer or no children:

  • 40 % of women born in 1934 had three or more children, but since then it has fallen to around 30%.
  • 9% of women born in 1945 had no children, this may rise to 20% for women born in the 1980s.
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Population structure

The population pyramid of the UK shows how the population structure has changed. 

Today, about a fifth of the population is made up of the under 16s and about a fifth of the over 60s. This has changed from a higher proportion of under 16s when the larger generations were young, e.g. in the 1940s and 1950s. In the future, it'll change to a higher proportion of over 60s, as the larger generations reach retirement.

Life expectancy has also increased from around 50 in 1900 to 77 for men and 81 for women today.

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Migration and Ethnicity

Before WW2 many Germans and Irish people migrated to the UK. After the war, immigrants came from the countries of the then Soviet Union, e.g. Ukraine.

In the 50s-70s large numbers of immigrants came from countries that were once part of the British Empire. Most came from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean.

Lots of people have come from central and eastern European countries like Poland since they joined the EU in 2004.

All thing migration has changed the ethnic mix of the UK - we're a multiculteral country. About 15% of the population are immigrants themselves or are descended from immigrants. For example, there are now over 1 million UK citizens who class themselves Indian.

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Employment in the primary and secondary sector has declined in the last 100 years. E.g. in 1901, about 51% of jobs were in the secondary sector, but this had fallen to 20% by 2001.

Mechanisation has meants fewer jobs in agriculture, whilst manufacturing industries have moved abroad where ther's cheaper labour.

Improvements in education have led to a rise in tertiary sector jobs, up to about 40% in 1901, to 78% by 2001.

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Social status

Social class can be defined by things like education and occupation. The main traditional social classes in the UK are:

  • Upper class - the noblity, often people who hold titles or have inhereted wealth.
  • Middle class - usually highly educated people with professional jobs and above average earnings, e.g Doctors.
  • Working class - less well educated people with semi-skilled or unskilled jobs with below average earnings , e.g. workers in car assembly plants.

It's thought that the social classes have been changing, e.g. the middle class is growing as the number of people in higher education increases, causing and increase in the average wage and higher-class activities like skiing holidays.

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Changes in population - Internal

Family size

  • The sufferagette movement - the equal rights movement for women led to changes in attitude, giving women more freedom. This caused a reduction in birth rate as women felt free to pursue their own careers and delay having children, or have fewer children.
  • Legalisation of abortion - more women could choose not to have a child.

Population structue

  • Establishment of the NHS - free health care for everyone led to increased life expectancy.

Employment and social status 

  • Increasing A-level and university take-up - greater levels of education have caused changes in employment e.g. more jobs in the tertiary sector, and changes to social status, e.g. more middle class people.


  • People moving from the north to the south-east after the decline of the secondary sector.
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Changes in population - External

Family size

  • Periods of global recession - during global recessions people have less money, which means they can't afford to have lots of children.
  • Global conflict - birth rates fell during the two World Wars because of the economic stresses of war and because men were away from home. After WW2 there was a baby boom.

Population structure

  • Decrease in dangerous jobs - number of jobs that cause poor health and loss of life. Workers in the UK now carry out less dangerous work, so life expectancy has increased. 


  • Loss of manufacturing to overseas - factories have been moved to other countries where there's cheaper labour, e.g. NICs. This has caused a decline in the secondary sector in the UK, so many people have lost their job or have had to change jobs.
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Changes in population - External


  • Open-door policier - EU membership means people from other countries can live and work in the UK. This has increased immigration into the UK.
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