United Kingdom : Society


Population density (per sq. km): 


Life expectancy: 
80 years
Primary enrolment: 

63,136,000 (2013); England 84 per cent, Scotland eight per cent, Wales five per cent, Northern Ireland three per cent (2011 census); 82 per cent of people live in urban areas and 26 per cent in urban agglomerations of more than one million people; growth 0.4 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 12 per 1,000 people (16 in 1970); life expectancy 80 years (72 in 1970 and around 50 in 1901).

According to the 2001 census, the ethnic origins of the population are 92.1 per cent European; 4.0 per cent Asian (1.8 per cent Indian, 1.3 per cent Pakistani, 0.5 per cent Bangladeshi); two per cent Caribbean or African; and 0.4 per cent Chinese.


English (official language); Welsh (an official language in Wales) is spoken by about 19 per cent of people in Wales (2011 census) and is the first language in much of rural north and west Wales; Scottish Gaelic is spoken in Scotland by some 70,000 people, many of whom live in the Hebrides. Many ethnic minorities speak the languages of their countries of origin.


The majority of adherents to a religion are Christians (59.5 per cent in the 2011 census, of a wide variety of denominations); independent churches and new religious movements increased in the late 20th century. There are substantial communities of Muslims (4.4 per cent), Hindus (1.3 per cent), Sikhs (0.7 per cent), Jews (0.4 per cent) and Buddhists (0.4 per cent). About one-quarter of the population does not profess any religion (25.7 per cent in the 2011 census).


Public spending on health was eight per cent of GDP in 2011. The National Health Service (NHS) provides free health care. It has a workforce of more than one million people and is paid for mainly through general taxation. Cancer, heart disease and stroke are the major causes of death, while accidents are the commonest cause of death under 30. Up to the end of 2012, around 100,000 people were estimated to be living with HIV. Cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of illness and death. About 27 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women drink alcohol to an extent that may put their health at risk. There are 34 medical schools in the United Kingdom (2014). Infant mortality was four per 1,000 live births in 2013 (23 in 1960).


Public spending on education was six per cent of GDP in 2010. There are 12 years of compulsory education starting at the age of five. Primary school comprises six years and secondary seven, with cycles of three and four years. The school year starts in September.

After the age of 16, when it is no longer compulsory, most young people stay in education, either at school or at further education colleges, and may then go on to higher education institutions. In England, the Education and Skills Act 2008 raised the age of compulsory participation in education to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. According to the higher education admissions service, UCAS, there are more than 300 institutions providing higher education courses, including universities, colleges of higher education and further education colleges. The female–male ratio for gross enrolment in tertiary education is 1.40:1 (2010). There is virtually no illiteracy among people aged 15–24.

The UK hosted the First Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in Oxford in 1959 and the 15th Conference in Edinburgh in 2003. Commonwealth Education Ministers meet every three years to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.


There are many daily and Sunday newspapers, of which some ten dailies and ten Sunday papers are national. ‘Quality’ newspapers include The Daily Telegraph (established 1855), Financial Times (1888), The Guardian (1821), The Independent (1986), The Scotsman (1817 as a weekly, daily from 1855) and The Times (1785). Leading weeklies include The Economist, The Observer and The Sunday Times.

The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) – which began daily radio broadcasting in 1922 – provides national, regional and community public radio and TV services, and the international World Service radio and World News TV channel. The BBC is funded by an annual licence fee payable by all households with a TV set. The first commercial TV channel, ITV, was launched in 1955 and commercial radio in the 1970s (although ship-based ‘pirate’ radio stations sprung up in the 1960s until they were outlawed).

The many other TV and radio broadcasters, including the state- owned TV channel, Channel 4 (launched in 1982), are funded by income from sales of advertising or by subscription, or by civil society organisations. All broadcasting is digital and the majority of stations and channels have only ever been digital. Analogue broadcasts were switched off region by region during 2007–12. Terrestrial and satellite broadcasting reaches most households. In most urban areas cable transmission is also available; and many radio and TV programmes can be replayed via the internet.

Some 99 per cent of households have TV sets (2007). There are 885 personal computers per 1,000 people (2012).


Country code 44; internet domain ‘.uk’. Coin- and card-operated phone booths are located throughout the country, and multimedia phone booths in larger cities. Mobile phone coverage is generally good. There are internet cafés in most urban areas, and growing numbers of coffee shops, bars and libraries offer wireless connections. Post offices are located in all towns and many villages.

For every 1,000 people there are 529 landlines, 1,238 mobile phone subscriptions and 898 internet users (2013).

Public holidays: 

New Year’s Day, May Day (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August, first Monday in August in Scotland only), Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Additionally in Scotland: Hogmanay (2 January); and in Northern Ireland: St Patrick’s Day (17 March), and Battle of the Boyne Day (12 July). The Queen’s Official Birthday (in June) is not a public holiday.

Religious and other festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Good Friday and Easter Monday.