Population 56 million - and counting

Crowd in street17 July 2012

The newly published figures from the 2011 census show that the population of England and Wales increased with 7 per cent – 3.7 million – over the last decade. This is the largest jump in population figures since the first census in 1801.

The population of 56.1 million equates to 371 people per square kilometre. But without including the densely populated London, this drops to 321 people. London saw the largest increase in population since 2001; with more than 850,000 new residents the city now has a population of over 8 million.

Over half of the increase (55 per cent) is due to immigration, while 45 per cent is due to births exceeding the number of deaths – both because people live longer and because mothers are giving birth at an older age.

"In general the migrant numbers just mean we are becoming a more diverse and dynamic culture, with people bringing their skills to the UK," says Professor Jane Falkingham, director of the ESRC Centre for Population Change, in a comment to The Independent.

"But there are some local areas which have seen dramatic transformations of their ethnic mix, and the further breakdown of data we get from the ONS later this year will help local authorities to see whether they are providing the right services for their population," she adds.

The population is also getting older, with one in six people in England and Wales aged 65 or over – and 430,000 people aged 90 and over. The median age of the population has steadily increased from 25 in 1911 to 35 in 1961, and 39 in 2011.

According to the census figures women outnumber men by almost a million, with 28.5 million women registered. Differences in life expectancy goes some way to explain this, and is a "big factor" as Professor Falkingham comments to BBC News. However, other factors could also influence the census figures.

"Between the ages of 20 and 30 years old men are less likely to fill in forms," she points out. "They are also more likely to not be in the UK."

With more men working abroad or travelling, they would have a higher chance of not being registered in the census, thereby skewing the figures toward women.

More figures from the census are expected later this year – but after more than 200 years, the census of 2011 might be the last of its kind.