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Census 2021 – Northern Ireland’s ageing population will inform key policy decisions


Census shows older age groups (aged 65 and over) rose by nearly 25% since 2011

Census shows older age groups (aged 65 and over) rose by nearly 25% since 2011

Census shows older age groups (aged 65 and over) rose by nearly 25% since 2011

The first results from the 2021 census have been released and report the highest population ever recorded in Northern Ireland — 1.903 million, which is a 5% increase since the last census in 2011.

The number of occupied households recorded is also the highest, which stands at 769,000 — a 9% increase during the last decade (2011-21).

The average household size, however, reduced from 2.54 in 2011 to 2.44 in 2021. It is notable that the data collection, as reported in the 2021 census quality assurance report, was very successful with a response rate of 97%, where around eight out of 10 people took the online option to complete the survey.

With slightly more females (51%) than males (49%), the population is quite balanced gender-wise.

Looking at the various age groups, the highest increase can be seen in the older age groups (aged 65 and over) which rose by nearly 25% since 2011.

This is a significant number especially when we look at the recent falling birth rates, as reported in the census, where young children (aged 0 to 4) decreased by 9% from the last census. The ageing population is one of the factors that should inform the decisions on public policies in the years to come.

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This factor should be taken into consideration while making strategic decisions on the provision of essential health and social care services, as well as education and other associated sectors.

The results on ethnicity, national identity, religion, sexual orientation and other key factors will be published later this year, which should provide further insights into the equality statistics.

It would be interesting to see the spatial distribution of population and all the key factors to understand the diversity and inequalities, as well as the spatiotemporal trends — comparing these with the previous census data — in Northern Ireland.

Priority areas, both geographically and sector-wise, could then be determined to inform the public policies for the next decade.

Dr Saad Bhatti is a lecturer in Geographic Information Systems and Human Geography at Ulster University

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