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UK in 2051 to be ‘significantly more diverse’

The ethnic makeup of the UK will change dramatically over the next 40 years, with the country becoming far more ethnically diverse and geographically integrated, according to new projections.

In a report published this week, researchers from the University of Leeds predict that ethnic minorities will make up one-fifth of the population by 2051 (compared to 8% in 2001), with the mixed ethnic population expected to treble in size. Their projections also indicate that the UK will become far less segregated as ethnic groups disperse throughout the country. 

These initial findings of a three-year study include population projections for 352 local authorities in England, and projections for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, for each year until 2051.  

Key projections for 2051

  • UK population could reach almost 78 million* (59 million in 2001)
  • White British, White Irish and Black Caribbean groups to experience slowest growth
  • Other White (Australia, US and Europe) and Mixed to experience the biggest growth
  • Ethnic minority share of the population to increase from 8% (2001) to around 20%
  • Ethnic minorities to shift from deprived local authorities to more affluent areas
  • Ethnic groups to be significantly less segregated from the rest of the population

The team found striking differences in the respective growth rates of the 16 ethnic groups studied. White British and Irish groups are expected to be very slow-growing, while the Other White group is projected to grow the fastest, driven by immigration from Europe, the US and Australasia. Traditional immigrant groups of south Asian origin (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) will also grow rapidly in size. 

Project lead Professor Philip Rees of the University of Leeds, said: "The ethnic makeup of UK's population is evolving significantly. Groups outside the White British majority are increasing in size and share, not just in the areas of initial migration, but throughout the country and our projections suggest that this trend is set to continue through to 2051. 

"At a regional level, ethnic minorities will shift out of deprived inner city areas to more affluent areas, which echoes the way white groups have migrated in the past. In particular black and Asian populations in the least deprived local authorities will increase significantly." 

The research team investigated ethnic population trends at a local scale in the United Kingdom and built a computer model to project those trends under a variety of scenarios for the future. They used existing data on the 16 ethnic groups recognised in the 2001 census, along with demographic factors such as immigration, emigration, fertility and mortality. 

The variety of assumptions about how these factors could develop and change over time generated five different scenarios for population makeup for each year until 2051. Each of the five projections has different absolute figures for ethnic groups and the population size as a whole, which the authors say highlights the difficulty in predicting trends such as migration. 

"It is impossible to predict exactly how people will move into, out of and within the country the coming decades as all of these trends are influenced by a whole range of socio-economic factors. However, our results suggest that overall we can look forward to being not only a more diverse nation, but one that is far more spatially integrated than at present," said Prof Rees. 

For more information

This work has now been published in the Journal of Population Research and can be viewed here

Contact Esther Harward in the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 4196 or email e.harward@leeds.ac.uk

Notes to editors

*Figure obtained using the TREND-EF projection: assumptions for components beyond 2008 are adjusted in a general way to those adopted in the 2008-based National Population Projections. 

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.   

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. You can also follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter.