NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 24, 2009

The current political debate about migration in the United Kingdom is often dominated by voices expressing concerns that migration levels are too high and that the population is growing too large.  But there is another fear: Migrants will not come to England and Wales in the numbers we expect, says Danny Dorling, a professor of human geography at Sheffield University.

Official projections suggest that the rate of net immigration to the United Kingdom in the next few decades will be higher than at almost any time over the last century and a half.  If these predictions come true, this would represent a significant turn of events of a kind not seen since near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Moreover, if the official predictions are correct, says Dorling:

  • Immigration will allow the United Kingdom to maintain the population growth it would have had if it had they maintained the fertility rate it had in 1970 (just above the replacement level of 2.1, at 2.5 children per woman) until the year 2000.
  • The official predictions also suggest that the population growth rate will then fall slowly towards equilibrium, so the United Kingdom will reach a point where England and Wales settle down to having a stable population, without suddenly finding that it has too few young people.

This is an attractive scenario, and one that requires that significant net immigration be sustained.  This in turn requires economic success and necessitates the United Kingdom maintaining its good reputation abroad, relative to other affluent countries -- being seen as socially tolerant, accepting and a safe place to live and work, says Dorling.

People in the United Kingdom need to understand the potential negative economic and social consequences of reduced migration levels and a declining population.  Too little immigration may yet turn out to be a bigger problem for the United Kingdom than recent high levels of migration, says Dorling.

Source: Danny Dorling, "Why low migration levels threaten the UK's economic and social health," The Guardian, April 23, 2009.

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