The United Kingdom, with a population of 66 million (84% England, 8% Scotland, 5% Wales, and 3% Northern Ireland) is European-not-European, in many ways culturally distinct from the continent though with shared humanistic values. With a median age of 40.6 and life expectancy of 81 years, this predominantly Caucasian (87.2%; next largest group is 3%), Christian (59.5%) / secular (25.7%) nation is 15th globally for HDI (0.92) and 6th for GDP.
A monarchy for many centuries, today a constitutional monarchy, the UK founded parliamentary-style democracy — following 5 centuries as a global empire. At the British Empire’s peak (1922), it included approximately 1/4 of the world’s land mass and 458 million people, having aggressively sought colonies for their natural resources, land for habitation, and creation of jobs for its citizenry. The Empire was noted for treating indigenous peoples poorly, however, including a trans-Atlantic slave trade; its demise began in the late 18th century with the loss of America, and ended in the mid-20th century with the rise in nationalism and self-rule following World War I and the economic blow of World War II. Today, with several remaining British Overseas Territories, and the Commonwealth alliance with former colonies, the construct of ’empire’ has never fully receded from the British consciousness.
There are sociocultural distinctions to be made among the component regions that make up the United Kingdom: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These fall generally along Celtic vs Anglo-Saxon origins, with England as the latter; throughout history, England has held much of the region’s power and populace, and some condescension and resentment thereof lingers today. However, these cultures now have far more in common than distinction, and a majority of citizens are a mix of these 4 groups. Shared cultural values today include: privacy, humour, common sense, honesty, consideration, fairness, informality, and diligence. Boasting of one’s status or accomplishment is considered crass, as is circumventing the system as opposed to achievement by one’s own effort. There is a general tendency to avoid conflict and maintain harmony, to keep to oneself and not get overly involved in the affairs of others. The culture is a mixture of direct / indirect, though far more the latter; humour tends to forms of sarcasm, mockery, and irony. The young urban generation is highly individualistic, more direct, and less civic-minded than their predecessors, indicating social change.
A formerly rigid class system in England, which largely broke down a century ago, continues unofficially in class consciousness based on one’s schooling, social orientations, region, and accent; self-identity and sense of belonging to one’s ‘group’, as well as in stereotyping and prejudice, remain. The majority, however, are middle class , defined as living comfortably, and having had secondary / tertiary education. A peerage system remains, however, a remnant of the former aristocracy, based on inheritance of money, land, and/or title. The concept of class, however, is falling out of favour sociopolitically, with the growth of social mobility and the knowledge economy.
Some of the sociocultural distinctions of note among the 4 components of the UK include support for monarchy and conservatism, not surprisingly the highest in England, especially in the south, and markedly less so in both Scotland and Wales. Traditional class privilege in England is today seen in a tendency to support the conservative Tory party, while the Labour Party is dominant in Scotland and Wales. Scotland is focused on economic matters, particularly natural resources, and the question of succession has been raised more than once; Wales focuses on cultural and linguistic matters, perhaps a softer, sociological form of separatism. Northern Ireland, consisting of many British people who migrated there historically, is the most closely aligned with England.
The demographics of the UK are shifting dramatically, as the nation becomes ever-increasingly multicultural — the former Empire coming home, as a majority of immigrants are from former British colonies. Although systemic marginalisation doesn’t seem to exist, and a moderately high degree of integration in residence can be found, non-European immigrants continue to experience discrimination in employment and elsewhere, and there is a perceived ‘threat’ among a significant portion of the citizenry — a key issue in the decision to leave the European Union, even as a majority of immigrants are from non-European countries. Family structures, once based on kinship groups, are also changing, along with an increase in contemporary social values; however, the majority of the populace still places high value on the extended family, though marriage is less of an expectation than previously.
Gender equality in the UK was downgraded on the most recent Global Gender Gap report (WEF),to 21st globally; inequalities include a wage gap of 16%, women 3 times more likely than men to work part-time, and unequal representation in all fast-growing sectors (e.g, cloud computing, engineering, or artificial intelligence) — as well as a pervasive ‘lad culture’ (a term equated with brutish, traditional, and sexist behavior). Gender equality is not constitutionally enshrined, and lacking in both policy and strategy, with the UK’s exit from the EU as an additionally cited concern. Of the top 100 FTSE companies, just 7 CEOs are female; female MPs are at 34%, and police inspectors at 21.7%, to name a few issues. As well, sexist perceptions of ‘suitable’ work for women persist, and the allocation of domestic tasks falls largely to women. The ideal of gender equality is widely shared among the populace; however, this is not yet met with practice.
The Hofstede Cultural Dimensions model scores the UK high for individualism, moderately high for both masculinity (drive to success, competitiveness, value of status) and indulgence (leisure culture), low for risk aversion and hierarchy. The model does not distinguish among the 4 key regions that make up the UK: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.