The population continues to rise but so does the brain drain

The UK is experiencing a baby boom as the number of births hits the highest level in 40 years, according to mid year figures just out.  Only a small fraction of the country’s higher population is now due to foreign immigration.  In Northern Ireland where the population has continued to increase, more people left than arrived last year.  But the facts about bouncing babies fail to conceal a continuing severe problem of emigration among Northern Ireland’s young people, which a cursory scan suggests is even worse than the Republic’s. Have others caught up with this? Am I suffering from blogger’s nightmare, the only one who hasn’t?

In the year to June 2012 there were 813,200 births, the largest number since 1972, according to the Office for National Statistics’ annual midyear population estimates.

Overall the population increased by 419,900 to 63.7m – the largest increase of all EU countries. Almost two-thirds of the growth came from natural population increase – the number of births minus the number of deaths. The remainder came from net migration, which was 165,600, down from 247,000 the previous year

The estimated usual resident population of the UK in mid-2012 was 63,705,000. This was comprised of 53,493,700 in England, 5,313,600 in Scotland, 3,074,100 in Wales and 1,823,600 in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland more people left than arrived, so births accounted for all of the net population growth.

A year earlier in mid-2011 the estimated usual resident population of the UK was 63,285,100. This was made up of 53,107,200 in England, 5,299,900 in Scotland, 3,063,800 in Wales and 1,814,300 in Northern Ireland.

Regions of the UK

Mid-2011 and mid-2012 population estimates for the regions of the UK show that the population increase in the intervening year was greatest in southern and eastern England.

London had the highest population increase, up 1.27% during the 12 month period, with the South East, East and South West regions of England increasing by 0.83%, 0.77% and 0.73% respectively.

The lowest regional population increases in the year to mid-2012 were seen in the North East of England and Scotland at 0.23% and 0.26% respectively. The population of Wales increased by 0.34% and the population of Northern Ireland by 0.51%.

If population increases are a guide to relative prosperity or well being, NIK is not doing badly on that score – better than Scotland, Wales and the north east of England.

No region of the UK experienced a population decrease. The percentage of live births in Northern Ireland to mothers born outside the UK was 17.6% in the calendar year 2012. This has stayed broadly similar over recent years, but is higher than a decade ago (13.5% in 2002).

But here’s  the downside

Almost 25,000 left Northern Ireland in 2010 -11. Most of those emigrating are aged between 16 and 39, and it means the average age of NI’s rural villages is rising.

The Republic

According to  BBC News in May quoting a survey carried out for the National Youth Council of Ireland,

In the past four years, 300,000 people have emigrated from the Republic of Ireland; four out of 10 of them were aged 15 – 24.” Half of those aged between 18 and 24 have considered emigrating.

In his latest column in the Irish Times Vincent Browne quotes the following emigration  statistics but these don’t seem  to square with those above. Does anyone  know  which is accurate or how they may be reconciled?

The net outward migration of Irish nationals was 26,000 in this Government’s first year in office, in comparison with 22,400 for the previous year. The total net outward migration of Irish nationals was 34,400, the worst since 2008.

Vincent’s figure suggests that the immigration figures  from NI were similar to that from the Republic. – meaning they were  proportionally far worse.  Can this be true?


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London