Population Matters

Public supports small families, smaller populations, poll shows

Public supports small families, smaller populations, poll shows

Nearly half the public believes couples should limit themselves to two children or fewer to reduce human impact on the environment, according to a survey published today (July 11, World Population Day). A majority of those questioned would welcome a significantly smaller UK population than at present; almost as many say their quality of life would improve if their area had fewer people.

A YouGov poll of over 2,000 adults, commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust for World Population Day, found overwhelming support for the view that both the world and the UK are overpopulated. Seventy two per cent thought world population was too high, causing serious environmental problems, and 70 per cent took the same view of the UK.

Asked to name their ideal population size for the UK (current population 61 million), the most popular choice, selected by 24 per cent of respondents, was 40-50 million. Fifteen per cent chose 50-60 million. Six per cent supported a population of less than 30 million and the same proportion favoured 30-40 million and 60-70 million. Overall 51 per cent favoured a UK population of less than 60 million and only eight per cent thought it should be higher than 60 million. Forty per cent did not name a figure: excluding these “don’t knows”, nearly nine-tenths of those who expressed an opinion supported a lower UK population than at present.

Respondents were also asked if they thought their personal quality of life would be better if their area had more or fewer people. Forty three per cent said it would benefit from fewer people, 33 per cent thought it had the right number of people and only five per cent favoured more. Eleven per cent said numbers did not affect their quality of life.

The proportions favouring fewer people were higher amongst men (48 per cent compared with 39 per cent of women); those aged 35 and over (47 per cent); and people living in the south (48 per cent) and east (49 per cent) of England, the west Midlands and the north-west (both 47 per cent). The highest proportion was in London, where 54 per cent thought fewer people would benefit local quality of life compared with 22 per cent of Scots.

Thirty-three per cent overall thought their area had the right number of people and 11 per cent said numbers did not affect their quality of life.

Asked if people should take the environment into account when deciding family size, 34 per cent said couples should think about having no more than two children, eight per cent favoured having only one child and seven per cent said couples should consider having no children – a total of 49 per cent supporting two children or fewer. Thirteen per cent favoured a maximum of three children and 14 per cent said couples should have as many children as they liked.

The proportion supporting two children or fewer was lowest in the 18-24 age group, where a total of 33 per cent favoured two, one or no children, and highest among the over-55s (60 per cent). Smaller families were also more popular with men (56 per cent) than with women (43 per cent), with social classes ABC1 (52 per cent) than C2DE (46 per cent) and in the south-west, where 57 per cent favoured two children or fewer.

Other findings include:

*Widespread agreement that population growth is responsible for a range of environmental and social ills. Asked to name problems it causes, 74 per cent highlighted transport congestion, 65 per cent lack of affordable housing, 64 per cent damage to the natural environment, 53 per cent poorer quality of life, 50 per cent food supply, 48 per cent energy supply and water supply and 47 per cent climate change. Only four per cent thought it caused no problems.

*Significant support for measures to deal with population growth. The most popular was a reduction in immigration, favoured by 69 per cent, followed by the right to work after retirement age (63 per cent), better family planning to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies (62 per cent) and limitations on the offer of flats to young single mothers (48 per cent).

Roger Martin, chair of the Optimum Population Trust, said: “The poll clearly demonstrates widespread concern about the environmental damage caused by population growth and widespread support for measures to limit it. The unequivocal nature of these findings makes the silence on population policy on the part of politicians and environmental groups even more astonishing. The political parties and the green movement need to realise that the public can sustain a mature debate on population. It’s time they started treating people like grown-ups.”

Mr. Martin added: “Despite the hysteria that often greets discussions on population decline or reduction, there is nothing magical about current population levels and no good reason why they should not come down. The evidence shows not only that many people realise this but that most of those who expressed a view want a smaller UK population: only a small minority want it to grow any further.

“Yet official projections show that the UK is on course for a nearly 40 per cent increase in population, from 61 to 85 million, over the next seven decades. The message is unpalatable but unmistakable, namely that the Government is presiding over a future which most people in the country do not want and would reject – if only they had the chance. Conversely, parties or NGOs who realise that the public wants a population policy – obviously a non-coercive one – will reap the benefits in terms of membership and support.”

OPT will be forwarding the findings of the survey to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which this year is due to begin a study on the environmental impacts of demographic change in the UK, reporting in 2010. OPT has already submitted recommendations to RCEP, during a preliminary phase to establish the scope of the inquiry, that it should aim to set out an environmentally sustainable population target for the UK.

NOTES:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2131 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between May 22 and May 26 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults nationally (aged 18+).

The full results can be viewed at http://populationmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/YouGov11Jul09.xls