England Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

England is a major nation in the global economy and society, but who are the English people? In this lesson, we'll talk about ethnicity on the island and see what it means to English society.


Cheerio, gov'na. Don't get your knickers all in a twist, we're off to talk about Old Blighty. Okay, so maybe my grasp on British slang isn't very good, but I do know a thing or two about the English population. Although it's really just one part of a relatively small island in the northeast Atlantic, England has had a pretty big impact on this world. It still does, in fact. Now, first and foremost we should actually define where England is. A lot of people just look at this island and think: hey, that's England. But that's not quite right. This island in the Atlantic is Great Britain. Within the island are the three semi-sovereign states of Scotland, Wales, and of course England. You may also have heard the term United Kingdom, which is the technical name of the country containing Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So, the UK is the country, Great Britain is the island, and England is a nation within the UK and Great Britain. Hope that clears a few things up. Now then, let's get to know the English a little bit better.

The British Ethnic Group

So, who lives in England? To call someone English refers to their nationality; they're citizens of England. The people who are ethnically native to the island are the British. The British ethnicity is a mixture of indigenous Celtic tribes, mixed with French, Norman, Viking, and Germanic influences. Island nations like England tend to have ethnic populations that display a long history of being invaded, isolated, and invaded again, and that's certainly the case here. We also shouldn't ignore the Roman influence on the British ethnicity; Britain was the furthest westward extent of the Roman Empire.

As far as England today is concerned, about 86% of the total population identifies as white, according to the 2011 national census. Technically, this category of white could be applied to various European ethnicities, but the census did break this down a little. The vast majority were Anglo, or ethnically British. About 1% were Irish, and about 4% were simply categorized as 'other white', basically meaning of other European ethnicity.

Ethnic Minorities in Britain

So, what about the rest of the population? Considering the fact that the British Empire stretched across the entire world, it would be surprising if England had no ethnic minorities. The largest ethnic minority, in terms of the categories provided by the census, are Asians and Asian British populations. That last term is important. Just as in the United States we call an ethnically Asian group that has resided within the country for at least a generation as Asian-American, the British recognize Asian citizens of England in a similar fashion. Asians and Asian British groups make up about 7.5% of the total population. This is largely a legacy of imperialism, and a great number of people moved to England from Asian colonies after WWII, primarily from India, Pakistan, China, and Bangladesh.

The British Empire was large, and many ethnic minorities in England come from places that were once within this empire

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