Did You Know London's Population Is Just Now Returning To Pre-World War II Levels?

Contemporary Londoners, such as these young Britons, are an increasingly diverse mix of people from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
Contemporary Londoners, such as these young Britons, are an increasingly diverse mix of people from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Population of London Throughout History

The first major settlement in the region of what is now modern-day London, then known as Londinium, was founded by the Romans in 43 AD, and at its peak in the 2nd Century AD, the population of Roman London was around 60,000. In the 5th Century, Londinium was abandoned, and later, during the rule of the Anglo-Saxons, scattered, isolated farmsteads grew up in the countryside near what is now London. The population of London started to grow again from the 9th Century onward, and after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, London rapidly grew and developed into a large city. However, the Medieval period in London also witnessed several periods of plague and famine, serving as extended stretches of time when the growth of the city's population was significantly restricted. The Great Fire of London in 1666, which razed down four-fifths of the city's buildings, temporarily discouraged resettlement in the city. The period between 1714 and 1840 was one of rapid population growth, and an era when London’s population jumped from 630,000 to 2 million. During the Victorian Period in London, spanning over 60 years from 1837 to 1901, the population of London soared to nearly 6.5 million, and by 1940, as Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe air force bombings and missile strikes began to regularly target the city, London was populated by around 8.5 million people.

Half a Century of Decline (1931-1981)

During and after the Second World War, the population of London started declining. The population of the city dropped by nearly 2 million from its pre-war estimates to 6.6 million by the mid-1980s. During the war, factors like evacuation and conscription were primarily responsible for the sharp decline in London’s population. In the decades that followed the war, as the United Kingdom stabilized and strengthened itself, there was a tendency for former Londoners to shift their residences into the upcoming towns near London in search of a better life, seeing a rise of suburbanization and the rise to prominence of the Greater London metropolitan area. A number of factors like access to automobiles, increase in leisure and holiday times, shorter working hours, and a shift from extended family systems to nuclear families further encouraged this trend. The most populated areas of the city proper lost more than one-third of their populations during this time. However, this declining trend was soon to disappear, as will be discussed in the sections below.

Resurgence of the Economy

After the horrors of World War II, the United Kingdom, one of the victors of the war, gradually started recovering and improving its economy. Though the British Empire effectively ended its former prominence as its overseas possessions gained their independence en masse, the United Kingdom still managed to secure a fairly influential position in the world. It was one of the founders of the United Nations, with veto power in the same organization's Security Council, and also acted as one of the Western allies of the United States during the Cold War, as well as being instrumental in triggering the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The United Kingdom also joined the European Economic Community in 1973. As the capital of the United Kingdom, London flourished and prospered, once again becoming a global center for finance and culture. Following the landslide election victory of Tony Blair in 1997, London underwent major economic growth. By the end of the 1990s decade, most Londoners enjoyed a high standard of living, complete with the many amenities of modern life.

The Demographics of London: Today Versus Yesteryear

The prosperity of London and the city’s promise of ensuring a comfortable and secure life has long attracted immigrants from all across the world. In 2015, the city’s population topped 8.6 million, the highest since its former 1939 peak. However, the demographic pattern of the city is presently vastly different from its pre-war conditions. In 1939, 18% of the country’s population resided in London, while presently only 13% of the United Kingdom’s population lives in the nation's capital city. Also, in the pre-World War era, only 2.7% of London’s population were comprised of people born abroad, while presently the same figure has risen to a staggering 37%. Today’s London also has more pensioners and adult men than in the 1930s, and 43% of Londoners (with a majority being women) have attended a university today in contrast to only 2% having done so in 1939 (who were mostly men).

Projections For The Future

London’s population is predicted to grow in the future, and could reach 11 million by 2050. Experts warn that this could lead to massive strains on the city's infrastructure, and citizens might face a shortage of utilities, housing, and transportation options. Every year, nearly 42,000 new homes are in demand in London to meet the residential needs of the still burgeoning population. Substantial investments also must be made to further develop and renovate the city’s roads, railways, hospitals, and other infrastructure for the surging population. The future well-being of London depends on how well the guardians of this city manage to keep the pace of its structural growth on par with that of its human population.


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