Is England the most overcrowded country in Europe? Dutch figures get fishy

Look at all that land ripe for development
In my last post, I looked at the Daily Mail's most recent immigration stats and promised to look at the figures from 'This very crowded isle: England is most over-populated country in EU' in a separate post. So here I am.

Usually, when the Mail compares England's population figures to the rest of Europe it's comparing the most recent, up to date figures for England with ones for the rest of Europe that are a couple of years old (those have apparently been from the UN before). I suspected the same this time round and contacted the House of Commons Library for the current Mail figures.

They couldn't let me have the exact data the Mail had because it was from a request by a specific MP - but could point me toward where the data had come from at the ONS (here and here) and Eurostat. They also pointed me to a parliamentary answer from July that mentioned England's population density and referred to Eurostat figures.

It said:
Eurostat publishes estimates of population densities for all EU countries up to 2007 (see table tps00003 under main demographic indicators at [...]
There. Figures projected for 2010 compared with figures for 2007. I started banging out another post about that, complete with gags about washing powder ads and your kids smelling of wee, and then I did something I should have done before I started typing.

I looked at the Eurostat tables to see if the Mail's figures were from 2007 as the parliamentary answer suggested, or were based on some 2010 projection.

Following the link to Eurostat from the parliamentary answer and opening the suggested table shows figures up to 2007 only. No projections. Comparing the entry for Belgium with the Mail's figure shows it to be slightly higher in the Mail, so maybe the Mail's is from a projection somewhere.

Before I started looking elsewhere though, I checked Eurostat's figure for population density in the Netherlands in 2007. The Mail says it's 398.5, so Eurostat must say it's slightly lower, right?

Wrong. Very wrong. Whereas the Mail has a figure for the Netherlands' population density of 398.5 for 2010, Eurostat says it was 485.3 in 2007. Not only is that way higher, but England's population is not expected to be that densely packed until between 2031 and 2056. The Netherlands' population density hasn't been as low as England's in 2010 since at least 1996, according to Eurostat.

Maybe this is a mistake by Eurostat. I checked by looking at Wikipedia and following its data to its source.

Wikipedia lists the Netherlands' population density as 400 per square kilometre, and qoutes the Central Bureau voor de Statistiek (the Dutch equivalent to the ONS) as the source, but the link to the CBS is broken. I visited the CBS website to check Official Dutch figures for myself.

Official Dutch statistics for population density show that the Netherlands hasn't had a density as low as England's is now since some time between 1970 and 1980. The figure for 2010 is projected as 491 people per square km.

So, since it's not a mistake, what's the reason for the discrepancy?

Around 18.41% of the Netherlands' area - almost a fifth - is taken up by water, so the Dutch government calculates population density by land area. A much, much lower percentage of England is covered in water, which is why the ONS doesn't bother adjusting for that.

According to 'UK 2005', the ONS official yearbook of the UK, the total Land area of the UK is 129,720 square km. Calculating population density based on that and 2009's population, England had a density of around 399.4 per square km. That's just over one person per square kilometre more than the ONS figure, which probably doesn't adjust for water.

Still, that land area calculation includes inland waterways. Add them in and you might get, ooh, another one or two people. You'd still need nearly a hundred more to catch up the Netherlands.

Something fishy is going on here. Someone, whether it's somebody at the House of Commons Library, the MP who requested the data from the Library or somebody at the Mail has decided to ignore the figures the ONS suggests to look at and has made a separate calculation not based on official Eurostat figures or official Dutch figures.

This may not necessarily have been delibarate. Whoever made the extra calculation probably did so to avoid the usual mistake of comparing current figures for England with old ones from everywhere else. They may never even have seen the Eurostat figure for the Netherlands in 2007 and never have known that official Dutch figures add almost a hundred extra people to their own total.

But whether deliberate or not, England is only the most populated country in Europe if you ignore the figures the ONS suggests you look at, and ignore official Dutch stats.

The Mail says:
England is now the most overcrowded country in Europe.
Yeah. Only if you decide Dutch people can live underwater.

Continuing the theme from my last post, here's the second best rated pre-moderated comment:

Yeah.  So has the Mail.  There may be a connection between the two saying it.


Al said...

Not trying to be a chippy scot here- but are we talking the UK (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) or England? Or even England and Wales? Even the ONS quote is confusing on the matter. Makes a difference- Scotland (and Wales) are rather less densely populated than England is, which rather skews the figures.

Mindyou, regardless of which it is, even in the populated parts of England (there's much of the North and south west is rather empty) it's not actually that crowded is it? London, for example, is an incredibly spread out city for somewhere with its population. And even if England, or the UK, or whatever, did have the highest population density in Europe, it still doesn't mean that we're "overcrowded" or"full up".

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Cheers Al.

It is just England. The UK in total has been in the same position on the EU population density table since at least the 1950s, but England is not normally measured on it's own.

Measuring England's density, which MPs started demanding in PQs a couple of years ago, gives a figure it's easier to alarm with and looks like a shocking new development.

What would be interesting would be to measure England's population density in 1950 and see if there's been any change in it's position.

Since the UK's hasn't changed since then, I'm guessing no.