Population Matters

Most think UK population “too high”

Most think UK population “too high”

In a recent YouGov survey of 3,538 UK adults*, almost four out of five (79%) thought the UK population was too high, with almost half (45%) saying it was much too high. The majority view within each demographic group and region was that the UK population was too high.

The release of the survey coincides with a major international symposium on human population growth and global carrying capacity, organised by UCL and the Leverhulme Trust, being held in London this week (May 25th and 26th). See www.populationfootprints.org.

The survey, commissioned by Population Matters, also found that over four out of five (84%) thought the world population was too high, with over half (53%) thinking it was much too high. However, there was little awareness (1%) that the world population currently grows by 70 to 80 million a year**, indicating the current lack of discussion of the issue. Nearly four out of ten (37%) said they didn’t know, while one in three (33%) thought it was ten million or less.

Nearly two out of three (65%), rising to almost three out of four (72%) in the south, thought that the UK would be a better place to live in if it had fewer people and almost half (47%) thought that their personal quality of life would be better if their area had fewer people. Of those who expressed an opinion, just under two out of three (64%) thought that the ideal population size would be 50 million or fewer, compared with the current population of 62 million and the projected population of 72 million by 2033***.

Most thought population growth contributed to unemployment (70%), transport congestion (64%), lack of affordable housing (64%), social conflict (63%), loss of amenities and green spaces (61%), damage to the natural environment and biodiversity (55%), poorer quality of life (55%) and concerns over water supplies (50%). At least one in three also linked it to migration (49%), food price rises (42%), energy price rises (35%) and climate change (33%).

More than two out of three (68%) felt that people should take the future impact on resources, our quality of life and the environment into account when deciding how many children to have. Of these, nearly two out of three (63%) believed that a responsible maximum was two children or fewer and more than a quarter (26%) believed that a responsible maximum would be three children.

When consulted on a range of possible policies to reduce population growth****, over half agreed with reducing net immigration with the eventual aim of balanced migration (no more in than out) (63%), better family planning and advice to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies (56%), and limiting family tax credit (52%) and automatic child benefit (51%) to the first two children only. Between a fifth and a half also agreed with making emergency contraception (46%) and the contraceptive pill (40%) available free from pharmacies after private consultation with the pharmacist, asking young single mothers to live with their parents or in a hostel with specialist support rather than offering them a flat (45%), limiting aid for countries which refuse to adopt available family planning programmes (45%), more open discussion of population issues (43%), more research into long-term reversible contraception (35%), urging people to voluntarily have two or fewer children (34%), providing guidance to broadcasters to promote responsible attitudes to sex and parenthood (28%), providing more aid to support family planning programmes overseas (27%) and making a government minister responsible for addressing the problem of an increasing population (23%).

Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters commented, “This survey shows that most people are well aware that the UK and global populations are too high and that population growth has contributed to a wide range of negative outcomes. It confirms the results of a similar survey***** conducted two years ago, that our case that a smaller family is a sustainable family is a commonsense proposition which has widespread public support. We urge the government and relevant professions to consider what further they can do to reduce population growth in the UK and overseas.”

ABOUT the survey
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3538 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th and 12th May 2011. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
*The full results are available here, including results by area and demographic segment.
**UN DESA Population Division, Population Estimates and Projections
***Office of National Statistics, National Population Projections
**** These policies are not necessarily the recommendations of Population Matters, which are available on our website here.
***** Details of the 2009 survey are available here .