U.K. population increase raises concern

Stephen Beard Sep 9, 2009

U.K. population increase raises concern

Stephen Beard Sep 9, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: Things are booming over in the U.K. Nothing economic, of course. They’ve been in the same recession we have for the past year or more. We’re talking babies here. British births are up. Pair that with rising immigration and Britain’s seeing its biggest annual increase in its population in almost 50 years.

The way things are going, Britain could eventually overtake Germany as Europe’s most heavily-populated country. But depending on who you ask, that is not necessarily a net positive. From London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: In a wood-paneled council chamber, in the northern London borough of Brent, a group of immigrants swear an oath allegiance to the Queen. They are now proud British citizens.

CITIZEN 1: I’m from India and being a British citizen is, I feel very important to achieve that. It’s been a longer dream.

CITIZEN 2: I’m from Brazil, it’s an honor to become a British citizen.

CITIZEN 3: It means the most in the world for me, to settle here and raise a family, so it’s just fantastic.

There’s been a huge influx of immigrants into Britain — 2.3 million over the past decade-and-a-half. But over the past year there’s been a different trend. A baby boom has overtaken immigration as the main driver of population growth.

Immigrant mothers account for most of the extra births.

IMMIGRANT MOTHER 1: I’ve got already one kid here. She’s one years old. So already my family has started, so I’m happy.

IMMIGRANT: We want one next year. Now that we’re British we feel we can start a family, so finally it’s next year.

IMMIGRANT MOTHER 2: Already got a son here, and I attend to have another one.

Immigration and immigrant birth rates are not the whole story, however. There’s been a sharp rise in the number of births to British born women as well. Anastasia de Waal of the think-tank Civitas says there’s something very interesting going on.

ANASTASIA DE WAAL: Younger women, indigenous, middle-class women deciding to have children earlier so perhaps deciding it isn’t all about career. Having children is now a priority, therefore we see more people getting married and more people having children.

Not everyone is celebrating Britain’s booming birth rate. Norman Myers is a professor of development economics here at Oxford University. He specializes in sustainability. He doesn’t regard every extra baby as a little bundle of joy, but just another carbon emitter.

NORMAN MYERS: More people means more pollution, more pressure on the climate system. It means all kinds of adverse pressures.

Myers believes that a population of 61.4 million — and rising — is nothing short of a disaster.

MYERS: I believe that Britain has enough people already. And we might be better off with fewer people. I feel it’s deplorable that the population total is steadily growing in Britain. It should be going the other way.

Retired diplomat Sir Andrew Green is another naysayer when it comes to population growth. He says that with current levels of immigration and fertility, the U.K. will have 70 million people within two decades. The country will be the most populous and densely populated in Europe.

ANDREW GREEN: England is already 12 times as crowded as the United States, four times as crowded as France. And it causes a whole range of problems. Some of them are to do with the shortage of housing, the effect on the environment and the quality of life.

There could be fewer citizenship ceremonies like this in future. The government claims it does now have immigration under control. Because of the recession immigrants, especially from eastern Europe, have been losing their jobs and leaving Britain. So net migration is lower. But with the rising birthrate, the population continues to grow. And with it, widespread public anxiety.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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