When I finished university I went back to live in the town where I grew up. It was a medium-sized town, and we lived right on the edge of it. On one side was a succession of housing estates, followed by the town centre. On the other side was the countryside, followed by a number of small villages.
One thing that dawned on me while I lived there is that the level of ethnic diversity in one type of area – rural, urban or inner-city – is something that is not necessarily appreciated by someone used to living in another type of area. This works both ways: I’ve found that people in town and rural areas (starting with myself!) can be really surprised by the level of diversity in cities such as Birmingham and Leicester; and similarly that people who have spent their whole lives in cities can be really surprised when they find out how little diversity there is in smaller towns and rural areas.
A baseline: ethnicity in the UK as a whole
How ethnically diverse is the UK as a whole? In a sense this is an easy question to answer. The government takes a census every ten years, and records ethnicity. The last census was earlier this year (2021). However, the results will not be out until 2022. So I will have to make do with the results from the 2011 census. That means these figures are a bit out of date. Given that ethnic diversity has been rapidly increasing for the last few decades, the figures for the white population in 2021 will be lower, and the figures for ethnic minorities will (at least overall) be higher.
Well that came as a surprise! Did you know there is one census for England and Wales, and separate censuses for Scotland and Northern Ireland? I didn’t until I started looking this up. (This isn’t going to complicate things at all… )
According to the 2011 census, in England and Wales in 2011:
- 86.0% of the population was White / White British. This category includes White British, White Irish, Gypsy or Irish Traveller, and “Other White” (e.g. for example, white people from continental Europe).
- 7.5% of the population was Asian / Asian British. This is a very broad category which includes both far-eastern Asian (e.g. Chinese) and Indian-subcontinental Asian (e.g. Indian, Bangladeshi).
- 3.3% of the population was Black / Black British . This category includes, for example, Black African and Black Caribbean.
- 2.2% of the population was Mixed-race / Mixed-race British.
- 1.0% of the population belonged to another ethnic group.
Overall, 86.0% of the population of England and Wales was White / White British, and 14.0% of the population belonged to an ethnic minority.
Scotland and Northern Ireland both have a lower proportion of ethnic minorities: the Scottish census for 2011 recorded that the population was 96.0% white, 4.0% ethnic minority; and the Northern Ireland census gave 98.2% white, 1.8% ethnic minority. Together, the population of England and Wales (56.1 million) is much larger than the population of Scotland (5.295 million) and Northern Ireland (1.81 million). As a result, the percentages of white and ethnic minority groups for the UK as a whole are quite close to those of England and Wales (doing a few quick calculations I get 87% White and 13% Ethnic Minorities).
Rural and urban
Figures for diversity in rural and urban areas in England in 2018 are available in the report Rural Population and Migration (edit: I don’t have a link to this report. The government website was updated today, 26th August 2021, and now I can’t find a link to the figures for 2018. Very bad timing! The current report with figures for 2019 can be found here – Rural population and migration5 – unfortunately it lacks the table from the 2018 figures which is most directly useful for this topic!) I’ve used a few of the 2018 figures to create the graph below. There are three types of rural areas: sparse areas, villages and hamlets, and rural towns. Then there are urban towns/cities, and minor/major conurbations. For comparison, the dashed red line shows the total “average” percentage of ethnic minorities in England and Wales as a whole in 2011 (14%); I don’t have a figure for 2018, but it would probably be several percentage points higher.
The differences between rural areas, smaller urban areas and cities, and major conurbations are really pretty striking, and there is a clear pattern – the larger the urban area, the greater the ethnic diversity. I think the primary reason is simply that people tend to immigrate to a well-known, big city where they might find work, or already have family, etc., and it takes a long time (several generations) for diversity to fully spread out to small, little-known, rural hamlets.
These figures are averages over places of a particular type, and there can be big variations between individual locations. For comparison, the graph above has two extra bars: one for London in 2018 (figures from the 2016-based Greater London Authority Population Projections), and a bar for Leicester in 2011. Leicester, a good-size city (just under 330,000 in 2011) is one of the most diverse places in the UK. In 2011 the white population was only 51% – a figure which really surprised me when I first saw it. I simply had no idea the UK could be that diverse…
Wrapping it up
… and that, really, is the point of this post: that the levels of diversity in different parts of the UK can be really very different and this can be surprising. At one end of the scale there are cities like Leicester, where the white population is 50 or 60%. At the other end of the scale are villages and hamlets where, even in 2021, the arrival of a single family from an ethnic minority can still be big local news: they might be only the first or second to move in! (It would be just the same if a White family moved to a small rural village in other parts of the world.)
That’s all – it’s just a “did you realise / have you thought about” kind of post. I hope you found out something interesting. Catch you next time!