Of all the changes announced by the 2011 census, one of the most startling is the rapid change in the ethnic composition of London’s population. This has caught experts by surprise and reflects an underestimate of the extent to which white British people have opted to leave an increasingly diverse London.
Between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of white British in London’s population fell from 58 to 45 per cent. The share of ethnic minorities reached 40 per cent of the total, a 39 percent increase, while whites of non-British origin grew by a whopping 52 per cent. The share of minorities in London has increased by a percentage point a year since 1991. This has caught many by surprise. “By 2031 39 per cent of London’s population is projected to be from a BAME [minority] group,” a 2010 Greater London Authority planning report announced. Last year, a group of the UK’s leading academic geographers took the GLA to task for overstating the pace of change and projected that in 2031, London would still be 64.5 per cent white. The train has arrived more than 20 years early: in 2011, London is already only 59.9 per cent white! Analysts implied that London would not become “majority minority” in most of our lifetimes, but the latest census figures suggest otherwise.
How did the demographers, many of whom I know and respect, get it so wrong? Don’t blame demography, which is the most predictive of the social sciences, because the ethnic composition of today’s five year-olds is mathematically linked to the population of 50 year-olds in 45 years. Though political considerations may have affected the projections at the edges, this cannot be the explanation since projections for England were largely accurate. Minority fertility is not the issue: if anything minority birth rates have probably fallen faster than predicted. Immigration underestimates may be a partial factor, but what is far more critical is that the experts misread white outmigration from London. One of those who got it right was geographer John Stillwell of Leeds University, who noticed there was a large shift of whites from diverse wards in London to less diverse wards in the outer suburbs, and an even more dramatic white outlflow…