London’s Changing Population

A few weeks ago I was approached by BBC London to carry out a bit of analysis in relation to London’s ever-changing and growing immigrant population. Obviously something more interesting came along in the world of London-based topical news, as the stuff I did never made it to air (or at least, even if it did, they didn’t tell me about it)!

Well, the BBC’s loss is the blogosphere’s gain as you lucky people can now get the full, unabridged juicy findings – I hope you enjoy (most of the maps come at the bottom map fans)!

I should probably point out that given the limitations of the data released so far from the 2011 Census (univariate tables in the main), this is pretty light on analysis, heavy on presentation of data. That said, the facts on their own are pretty interesting.


All of the observations below have been made using data from the 2011 and 2001 Censuses, administered (in England and Wales) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). These data are available under the Open Government Licence –


London is a growing city with over 1 million more inhabitants than there were 10 years ago. A significant amount of this growth has been fuelled by international migration (although even more people arrive each year from other parts of the UK). Consequently, our Capital is now an even more international city than it was ten years ago with 37% of its population not born in the UK (compared to 27% then). Most of the foreign born living in London are from the rest of Europe, but there are significant populations from all parts of the globe.

Examining changes in London’s foreign born population from 2001, people born in Poland show the largest gross increase in numbers, up 136,076 (900%) to 158,300 people. Changes in the numbers of foreign born have also altered the structure of the city’s population, with areas across the city becoming slightly more polarised – foreign born now more likely to located in areas with other foreign born and UK born more likely to be located in areas with other UK born than they were in 2001.

While London can be described as a young immigrant city with almost 20% of the population arriving from overseas in the last 10 years and most of these in their 20s; it can also be described as a city of assimilation – people living in London are only slightly less likely than those in the rest of England and Wales to have a UK passport.

London is a multilingual city with English the main language of only 78% of Londoners (compared to 92% of the rest of England and Wales). After English, South Asian languages are spoken most widely (some 6.5 of the population) with Polish the main language of almost 2% of the population. Of the 22% of Londoners who don’t speak English as their main language, 18% can speak English well or very well. Only 4% have poor English skills, although these people are not spread evenly across the city – in Newham, Tower Hamlets and Brent around 8% of the population have poor English language skills.


Country of Birth

London’s Population Composition by Region of Birth



  • London’s population has increased by 14% (1,001,850 people) between 2001 and 2011
  • While most of London’s population have been born in Europe (76% – which includes those born in the UK) and there has been an 8% increase in the total number of Europeans, the proportion of Londoners born in Europe has declined from 80% to 76%, driven mainly by a reduction in UK born.
  • Almost 1 million Londoners were born in Asia in 2011, up 52% from 2001
  • UK born (not shown in table) are now 63% of the London population, compared to 73% in 2001.

Top Ten % Increases in Population by Country of Birth

  • In terms of the % increase in population (i.e. the number of people in 2011 compared to the number of people in 2001), those born in Romania have the largest increase, followed closely by those born in Poland, those born in China and those born in Scotland.



  • The number of people born in Romania in the Capital is not very large at only 44,848 (0.6% of the population). The % increase is large as in 2001 there were only 3,049.
  • The largest increase in those born abroad has been those born in Poland – an additional 136,076 are now living in the Capital. A rise since 2001 from 0.3% of the population to almost 2%
  • The numbers of foreign born people have risen across England and Wales since 2001, but compared to the rest of England and Wales, the proportions of foreign born in London have increased by more.
  • There are fewer UK born people living in London now (5,175,677) than there were in 2001 (5,231,701). The largest decrease has been those born in Northern Ireland (75,908 fewer).

The maps below show the location quotients of the UK born population within London – these show population concentrations with areas >1 above the average for the city and <1 below average.

UK born population are more heavily concentrated in the outer boroughs, with a below average presence in the ‘Inner London’ boroughs.

  • Between 2001 and 2011, these spatial concentrations have become more polarised, with concentrations becoming even heavier in the outer boroughs and even less heavy in the inner boroughs (see the animation .wmv file below for animated transition). This is partially a consequence of the far lower proportion of UK born in the city acting to intensify concentrations, although even when accounting for this, the gap between lowest and highest concentrations is increasing slightly.


LondonUKBornLQ2001 LondonUKBornLQ2011 LondonUKBornLQChange


  • The change map above shows how and where the concentrations of UK born population are evolving in London. ‘Strong’ shows where above average concentrations of UK born were in 2001; weak, where concentrations were below average.

Passports Held



  • London’s proportion of people with UK passports (71.2%) is not dissimilar to that of the rest of England and Wales (75.7%), despite a larger % of people being born abroad. This suggests that whilst London is a city of immigrants, it is also a city of assimilation.
  • Less than half of the people in London compared to the rest of England and Wales (7.8 vs. 16.9) have no passport – indicative of the volume of internationally mobile people within the city.

Length of Residence in the UK



  • 63% of London’s population were born in the UK (compared to 87% in the whole of England and Wales)
  • London is home to 40% of the people living in England and Wales who were not born in the UK
  • 4.5% of people living in London arrived in the last 2 years, 10% in the last 5 years

Year of Arrival



  • Year of arrival data confirms London’s status as a city of new arrivals – almost 20% of the population of the City arrived here in the last 10 years and almost 3 times that of the rest of England and Wales.

Main Language Spoken



  • English (or Welsh) is the main language spoken by 78% of Londoners (compared to 92% in the rest of England and Wales).
  • South Asian languages are, after English, the most frequently spoken with ½ a million Londoners (6.5%) defining it as their main language.
  • Polish is the third most popular main language spoken with almost 2% of Londoners speaking as their main language.

**See the maps at the bottom of this post for the spatial concentrations of these languages in London**

Proficiency in English



  • A higher proportion of people living in London cannot speak English well or at all, than in the rest of England and Wales (4% vs. 1.6%)
  • There is a distinct geography to poor English language skills in the Capital…
    • Three boroughs (Newham, Tower Hamlets and Brent) have over double the average rate of those who state in the Census that they cannot speak English well or at all – up to 8.2% of the population in these areas.
    • Location Quotients compare distributions of a particular variable with the national average. A score greater than 1 indicates that the area has a greater share of that variable compared to average. The map below highlights areas of London where people with bad or no English language skills are concentrated:
    • Poor English skills are particularly prevalent in Newham, East Haringey, South Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, South-East Enfield, Brent, Ealing, South Hillingdon and North-West Hounslow. Poor English skills are less prevalent in South London.



Age of arrival into the UK



  • For those not born in the UK, the most common age group of arrival is the 20-24 age group (in line with the age of peak migration across the world). People in this age group comprise around 22% of all migrants arriving in the capital
  • 41% of all migrants arriving in the capital are in their 20s – although this is not much higher than the 38% of migrants in the rest of England and Wales.

Maps of Main Language Concentrations in London

South Asian Language (Bengali, Pakistani Pahari, Urdu etc.)






African Language (Somali, Akan, Yoruba etc.)



East Asian Language (Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Thai etc.)





West/Central Asian Language (Persian/Farsi, Kurdish etc.)