The industrial revolution in Western Europe started around 1750 and from this period the UK saw a significant change in the distribution and density of its population. By the early to mid 19th century the domestic population transition was significant, aided by industrialisation and urbanisation. More particularly though the mechanisation and change in agricultural practices saw an end to strip farming and a beginning to mass production. This enabled a growing population to be fed and in tern a larger population meant a larger demand for manufactured goods and this in tern meant an increase in manufacturing industry.
As we have seen in the previous pages of this website the key rule when describing and analysing trends in population is that physical factors are the cause to population establishment and human factors are the explanation. The physical factors in the UK case lie around the proponents of the industrial revolution, this being fuel and energy. Because the UK had rich reserves of coal, iron, gas and steam and later on for oil, steam and electricity the development of industry and technology exceeded at a comparatively fast rate. Moreover, the coal and iron deposits were located in the same areas whilst also being situated near rivers that allowed for settlements to concentrate their industry in particular points. Rivers and canal networks allowed for the transport of raw materials and aided UK production. Production was increasing and with this so was jobs and the need for labour. This had two consequences on the effect on the population: more children were being born whilst infant mortality decreased and people migrated from rural areas to urban centres in search for work. Britains population doubled from 10.1 million in 1801 to over 20 million in 1850.
As well as this geographic factor there were also economic and political factors that influenced the population of the UK. The way the UK was administered by central government allowed the free reign of business and gave civil liberties to entrepreneurs whilst also allowing the free expansion of cities and industries to do near enough what they wanted. Thus cities and industries expanded and were met by the expansion in the population. Rich entrepreneurs could afford slaves and this also saw the ethnic make-up of the UK change slightly with the introduction of Caribbean and African minorities.
During the period of the second industrial revolution involving electricity and oil, there saw an emergence in class structure. Middle classes increased through the growing number of businesses being created whilst working classes also increased as more and more manufacturing jobs were created. The population would have exponentially increased had it not been for the large scale emigration to the US and to Austrailia.
During the periods around the industrial revolution the UKs geography gave it one more advantage and that was, because of its isolation in relation to the rest of Europe, that its population remained largely unaffected from the death caused by inter-euro wars. Nevertheless, by the start of the 20th Century this changed as Britains demography took a change for the worse with the advent of the First and later the Second World Wars.
The numbers of young men killed in battle rose to millions and from the periods after the war (post-1950) the UK saw a population distribution that sheered to illustrate more women than men. This balance would be naturally redressed in years to come. However, after the Second World War the UK needed massive rebuilding as much of its infrastructure was damaged as a consequence of bombing. With the population distribution at that time unable to meet the demands of the nation the only way the country was to rebuild in a short time span were to aid immigration into the country.
Plans were drawn by Tory Prime Minister Clement Atlee, post-1945, to reform the country, and as a well-known reformer he administered the recruitment of workers from commonwealth countries. As a result of this, the ethnic composition of British society further changed as Caribbean and Asian workers (and their families) came to fill the low-skilled positions needed to rebuild the Kingdom.
With the introduction of the new social groups we saw an introduction of new cultures and lifestyles. For the initial period of settlement, Asian families still saw the norm of having large families and thus the ethnic representation of this social group grew rapidly in comparison with the homogenous White-British group.
From this point on the UK saw a relaxation of immigration laws in the hope to develop population numbers and as a result population numbers and ethnic composition became more dynamic.