The Low Countries - traditionally highest population density in Europe?

In scare stories about how we should all be trembling under our beds because England is now the most densely populated country in the EU, it's traditional to include a sentence like this:
It has more people per square mile than the Low Countries, which has long been the most densely-populated region of the continent, MPs have been told.

The low countries have long been the most densely populated area of Europe because population density is usually measured by the whole nation. The UK is normally used in these measurements. This separating out England is a relatively new thing, with MPs (usually James Clappison) demanding to know England's density in parliamentary questions in the last couple of years.

These have provided figures that show that England is, or is about to become, the most densely populated country in Europe. They are presented to us as an alarming new development.

But is it? A while ago, I calculated the UK's position in the league table of Europe's population density since 1950. It has been a steady 4th for 60 years. I didn't look at England's at the time because I couldn't get hold of the figures.

With a little bit of digging around, I've managed to work that out now. According to the ONS's 'The UK population, past present and future', the 1951 census showed England's population to be 41.2 million. Dividing this between the square kilometres in England's land area (129,720) gives a population density for England in 1951 of 317.6.

Using UN data (Eurostat's doesn't go as far back as 1950) and official Dutch figures for 1950 - where does that put England in a Daily Mail style league table? Umm...

1. [1] Malta: 987
2. [2] England: 317.6
3 (or 4 using UN figures). [3] The Netherlands: 244 (UN figures) 309 (Official CBS figures)
4. [4] Belgium: 283
5. [5] United Kingdom: 208
6. [6] Germany: 192
7. [7] Italy: 154
8. [8] Luxembourg: 114
9. [10] Czech Republic: 113
10. [16] Hungary: 100
11. [11] Denmark: 99
12. [14] Portugal: 91
13. [18] Austria: 83
14. [13] Poland: 77
15. [19] France: 76
16. [17] Slovenia: 73
17. [15] Slovakia: 71
18. [22] Romania: 68
19. [24] Bulgaria: 65
20. [23] Greece: 57
21. [20] Spain: 55
22. [21] Cyprus: 53
23. [25] Ireland: 42
24. [27] Lithuania: 39
25. [28] Latvia: 30
26. [29] Estonia: 24
27. [30] Sweden: 16
28. [31] Finland: 12

[Mail's 2010 position in brackets - I've also taken out Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland because I cannot be arsed to do the calculations]

So, traditionally, the most populated area of Europe seems to be, er, England. Not the Low Countries.

Disqualifying Malta as the Mail always does shows that England has been the most densely populated of current EU countries since 1950, and there's been little change at all in the positions of the top 10. Using Official Dutch figures shows that the Netherlands has actually overtaken England, not the other way around.

The Netherlands' population density has also been growing at more than double the rate of England since 1950, whether you use official figures or the Mail's lower ones. Belgium, just below either England or the Netherlands on the 2010 table, has had it's population density grow at roughly the same rate as England between 1950 and 2010.

Not so scary is it?


Gareth said...

For what its worth, seeing as the tendancy is to exclude areas of lower density to push up figures, the 2 provinces that make up the traditional region of Holland have a population density of around 1100 people per square kilometre.

Anonymous said...

The other curious thing about these population density figures is how reports like to use Britain and England as if they are interchangeable.

Take the BNP story on this. Headline:

"It’s Official: Immigration Has Made Britain the Most Overcrowded Country in Europe"

In the story:

Now, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the House of Commons Library have shown that England is (after the island of Malta) the most densely populated country in the European Union.

See? Britain then England. Same thing really...well, no they aren't.

Migrationwatch used to pull the same trick and claim that Britain was the most overcrowded in Europe but after a complaint they changed it to England. That sort of lack of care over figures should make people very suspicious.

Anonymous said...

Good couple of posts.

I'm planning a post on this, but I thought I'd let you know what I'm thinking as I'm going to be busy for the next week or two so will be blogging a but less. Basically, the UK's houses are small, but not because there's loads of people. http://www.finfacts.ie/irelandbusinessnews/publish/article_10005314.shtml The Netherlands has bigger houses despite a higher concentration of people. I was gonna blog on that and use your last two posts as sources.