At least no-one used the word “ethnics”

Another day, another immigration panic. This time, it’s Metro, warning “UK population will be ‘largest in Western Europe by 2050′“,* though the Express mentions it too in less detail.

The population will jump to 77million by the middle of the century with France, which has more than double Britain’s land area, in second place with 70million inhabitants.

Germany, currently the EU’s biggest country with 81.6million people, will see its population slump to 71.5million, owing to low birth rates, fewer immigrants and ageing population.

This is a multipurpose blog post; since an article like like comes out every week (I’d probably have written something like this after the infamous “1-in-5 Britons will be ethnics” article, but there were bigger problems with that than just misleading use of data) I’ll try to be as general as I can.

The big problem with these articles (apart from that Metro hasn’t worked out that 70 million is less than 71.5 million) is that they don’t mention how wide a margin there actually is in population projections. The headline figure Metro goes for is 77 million, but according to the UN data, depending on whether you go with the low variant or the high variant, the UK’s population in 2050 could be anything from 64 million to 81.5 million.

Germany’s population, likewise, could be as low as 63 million or could be as high as 79 million. France’s population could be 60 million or it could be 76 million. Annoyingly, the Population Reference Bureau whose paper this article is based on this doesn’t seem to give their upper and lower bounds, but I’d imagine they’d be similar.

The data as Metro wants you to read it. Years on x-axis, population in thousands on y-axis.

The actual spread of population projections, UN high variant and low variant. An alternative colourblindness-safe version is at the bottom of the page.

Now, the UK’s population will grow over the next 40 years, and its entirely possible that growth will take us past France and Germany, but there’s too much spread to be as certain as Metro appears to be. It just takes a slight miscalculation of Germany’s birthrate, or a tiny variation in the UK’s immigration levels, and the entire graph changes drastically.

Just to put these numbers in perspective, by the way, even at the very worst, if the UK’s population hits 81.5 million, our population density will be 335 people per square kilometre. Right now, the population density of Belgium is 350 people/km2, the population density of the Netherlands is 401 people/km2, and the population density of South Korea is 487 people/km2. Global population growth as a whole is very bad for the environment indeed, but the growth of the UK on its own is not the problem, and certainly not growth caused by immigration. An 80 million person Britain is not the doomsday scenario that the tabloids would have us believe.

* I’m almost certain that by tomorrow though the Daily Mail will drag out Sir Andrew Green and MigrationWatch** to have their say on this though.

** MigrationWatch quote on their website, as some sort of vindication of their position, a quote from a government email.

“I have made this point many times before but can we please stop saying that Migrationwatch forecasts are wrong. I have pointed out before that Migrationwatch assumptions are often below the Government Actuarys Department high migration variant.”

Of course the fact that their estimates are “often below” the greatest upper bound doesn’t mean that they aren’t still improbably and misleadingly high.

A black and white version of the population projection spread graph. Undotted line is Germany, once dotted line is France and twice dotted line is the UK.

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