Factors affecting population change

Population change is also the result of differences between the birth rate and the death rate which gives the level of natural change (increase or decrease) in a country.

Population change and the UK

  • UK population increased slowly until around 1800.
  • An increase in life expectancy, improved food supplies and clean water, led to rapid population growth during the 1800s.
  • Falling birth rates, due to changing social attitudes and the emancipation of women, led to a slowing of population growth in the 1900s.
  • Since the 1950s, access to contraception and modern medicines have helped keep birth rates and death rates low and as a result population growth has been low.

Birth rates are low in the UK because:

  • people are marrying later and delaying starting a family due to career building
  • the high cost of living makes children expensive
  • couples may prefer to spend money on things such as holidays and cars
  • birth control and the contraceptive pill in particular, are easily available

Death rates are low in the UK because:

  • health care is modern and widely available, provided free by the NHS
  • people have less physically-demanding jobs
  • modern medicines treat many diseases
  • people are better educated about health and hygiene
  • higher incomes enable people to eat a healthy diet and have good living conditions

Population structure

Population structure means the 'make up' or composition of a population. Looking at the population structure of a place shows how the population is divided up between males and females of different age groups. The structure of a population is often of greater importance than numbers alone.

Population structure is usually shown using a population pyramid. A population pyramid can be drawn up for any area, from a whole continent or country to an individual town, city or village.

A population pyramid tells us how many dependants there are. There are two groups of dependants - young dependants (aged below 15) and elderly dependants (aged over 65). Dependants rely upon the working population for economic support. As birth rates fall and people have smaller families, the number of young dependants is falling and the number of elderly dependants is rising.

Compared to 2001, in 2011 there are more people aged 20-24, 45-49 and 60-64. There are fewer people aged 10-14 and 30-39.

The population structure of the UK has changed since 2001 as a result of low birth and death rates, together with migration into and out of the country. The population pyramid above shows these changes. There has been:

  • an increase in the number of children aged under five years old
  • an increase in the number of young adults aged 20 to 25
  • an increase in very old people aged 80 or over

Increase in the number of children

This is partly due to the higher birth rates of migrants who have entered the country in the last 10 years. Many migrants are of reproductive age. In addition, they may have a religious culture that forbids the use of contraception.

Increase in the number of young adults

The majority of people who migrate are young and in search of work and a better life. More men tend to migrate than women.