AREA: 243,977 sq. km. (94,200 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Oregon.
CITIES: Capital London (pop. about 6.9 million in 1979). Other cities Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast.
TERRAIN: 30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or urban, 7% forested, 1% inland water.
CLIMATE: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to frequent changes but to few extremes of temperature.
The population of the United Kingdom was estimated at 55.9 million in 1979, about 3.4 million more than in 1961 and a sevenfold increase since 1700. Its population is the fourth largest in Europe (after the USSR, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Italy), and its population density is one of the highest in the world. Almost one-third of the total population lives in England’s prosperous and fertile southeastern corner, with population declining in the more rugged areas to the north and west. The population of the United Kingdom is predominantly urban and suburban.
The contemporary Briton is descended mainly from the varied ethnic stocks which settled there before the end of the 11th century. A group of islands close to the European Continent, Great Britain has been subject to many invasions and migrations, especially from Scandinavia and the Continent, including Roman occupation for several centuries. Under the Normans Scandinavian Vikings who settled in northern France the pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were blended into the Briton of today.
Although the Celtic languages persist to a small degree in Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, the predominant language has long been English, a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French.
The high literacy rate in the United Kingdom (99%) is attributable to the introduction of public primary education in 1870 and secondary in 1900. In 1981, nearly 11 million students attended educational institutions, most of which are publicly financed in whole or in part. Education is mandatory from ages 5 through 16.
The Church of England (Episcopal), with 27 million baptized members, is the largest church.