The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has released further results from the census held on 21 March 2021.
The usually resident population on census day 2021 was 1,903,175 – the highest ever. The census data also showed that the population continued to age. While the overall population increased by five per cent, the number of people aged 65 or more grew by nearly 25 per cent. The data also shows that population ageing has been happening across each of the 11 local councils.
Census 2021 shows us that the population is also becoming more diverse. Minority ethnic groups have increased in size and the number of people living here born outside the UK and Ireland is up to around one person in fifteen, the highest ever recorded. Census 2021 data on main language, passports and national identity all point to an increasingly diverse population. On religion, the statistics point to the increasing secularisation of our population. This pattern of increasing diversity and secularisation is seen across all council areas.
The Northern Ireland usually resident population increased by 5.1 per cent (92,300) from 2011 to 2021. The Census 2021 population is recorded at 1,903,175 people, up from 1,810,863 people in 2011.
Over the decade population increase was greatest in the older age groups. The number of people aged 65 or more rose by over 60,000, to nearly one-third of a million people in Census 2021. This is a near 25 per cent increase on 2011 and demonstrates the scale of population change due to ageing.
All local councils showed an ageing population over the period 2011 to 2021.
The share of the Northern Ireland population represented by people aged 65 years and over stood at 17.2 per cent in 2021.
Belfast remains the largest council by population with 345,400 people in 2021 and Fermanagh & Omagh remains the smallest council by population with 116,800 people in 2021.
Ards & North Down council has the highest percentage of people aged over 65 at 22.1 per cent. Mid Ulster council has the highest percentage of people aged under 15 at 21.7 per cent.
Population growth was proportionately greatest in the Lisburn & Castlereagh council with 149,100 people in 2021 (up 10.6 per cent from 2011).
On census day 2021, there were 768,810 occupied households in Northern Ireland, up 9.3 per cent from the 703,275 recorded in 2011.
In line with the ageing population, the average household size across Northern Ireland decreased from 2.54 usual residents per household in 2011 to 2.44 usual residents per household in 2021. The average household size decreased across all 11 local councils.
In Census 2021 the number of one person households stood at 234,600 (30.5 per cent of all households). This is up from 196,400 one person households in 2011 (27.9 per cent). In 2021, the number of one person households is the highest on record, and research has shown that this change is driven at least in part by our ageing population
On census day 2021, 3.4 per cent of our population, or 65,600 people, belonged to ethnic minority groups. This is around double the 2011 figure (1.8 per cent – 32,400 people) and four times the 2001 figure (0.8 per cent – 14,300 people). Country of birth
The number of people living in Northern Ireland who were born outside the United Kingdom and Ireland has grown from 81,500 people (4.5 per cent) in 2011 to 124,300 people (6.5 per cent) in 2021. The 2021 figure is the highest ever recorded in Northern Ireland.
In Census 2021, 1,484,700 people (78.0 per cent) held a single passport and 116,300 people (6.1 per cent) held more than one passport. In contrast, one person in six (15.9 per cent) or 302,200 people did not hold a passport.
The number of people holding a United Kingdom passport solely or jointly was 1.00m people in 2021. This is a decrease from the 1.07m people recorded as holding a United Kingdom passport solely or jointly in 2011.
The number of people holding an Ireland passport solely or jointly increased from 375,800 people in 2011 to 614,300 people in 2021, an increase of 63.5 per cent. This is consistent with the increasing demand for Ireland passports since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
In 2021 there were 92,500 people resident in Northern Ireland (or 4.9 per cent of our population) who held a non-UK/Ireland passport only. This is an increase from 2011, when 54,200 people resident in Northern Ireland (or 3.0 per cent of our population) held a non-UK/Ireland passport only.
Main language other than English
On census day 2021, 4.6 per cent (85,100 people) of our population aged 3 and over had a main language other than English. In 2011, English was not the main language of 3.1 per cent (54,500 people).
In 2021 the most prevalent main languages other than English were Polish (20,100 people), Lithuanian (9,000), Irish (6,000), Romanian (5,600) and Portuguese (5,000).
The statistics released today show an increasingly diverse population across ethnic group, main language, country of birth and passports held. This increasing diversity is evident to a greater or lesser degree across all 11 local councils.
Irish and Ulster-Scots language ability
Census 2021 shows that 12.4 per cent (228,600 people) of our population aged 3 and over had some ability in the Irish language. This is up from 10.7 per cent in 2011.
Census 2021 shows that 10.4 per cent (190,600 people) of our population aged 3 and over had some ability in the Ulster-Scots language. This is up from 8.1 per cent in 2011.
In 2021, the main current religions were: Catholic (42.3 per cent); Presbyterian (16.6 per cent); Church of Ireland (11.5 per cent); Methodist (2.3 per cent); Other Christian denominations (6.9 per cent); and Other Religions (1.3 per cent). In addition 17.4 per cent of our population had ‘No religion’ – this is a marked increase on 2011 when 10.1 per cent had ‘No religion’. This points to the increased secularisation of our population.
The proportion of the population in Census 2021 with ‘No religion’ ranges from 30.6 per cent in Ards & North Down council to 7.8 per cent in Mid Ulster council. All councils are more secular in 2021 than they were ten years ago.
Combining current religion and religion of upbringing gives 45.7 per cent of our population who were ‘Catholic’, 43.5 per cent who were ‘Protestant, Other Christian or Christian related’ and 1.5 per cent who were from other non-Christian religions.
The remaining 9.3 per cent of our population, or 177,400 people in Census 2021 neither belonged to nor were brought up in any religion. This group has increased in size from 2011 when 5.6 per cent or 101,200 people were recorded in this way.
National identity (nationality based)
People could select more than one national identity. As an example if the respondent ticked both ‘British’ and ‘Northern Irish’ they were counted in the national identity (nationality based) classification as ‘British’ and also as Northern Irish’.
In Census 2021, 814,600 people (42.8 per cent) living here identified solely or along with other national identities as ‘British’. This is down from 876,600 people (48.4 per cent) in 2011.
In Census 2021, 634,600 people (33.3 per cent) living here identified solely or along with other national identities as ‘Irish’. This is up from 513,400 people (28.4 per cent) in 2011.
In Census 2021, 598,800 people (31.5 per cent) living here identified solely or along with other national identities as ‘Northern Irish’. This is up from 533,100 people (29.4 per cent) in 2011.
National identity (person based)
Also published today are results for the national identity (person based) classification. This relates to the specific single identity or specific multiple identities people recorded in Census 2021. As examples these include ‘British only’, ‘Irish only’, ‘British and Northern Irish’ etc… Statistics for this classification are shown below. In Census 2021 the largest person-specific national identities were
‘British only’ - 606,300 people or 31.9 per cent of our population;
‘Irish only’ - 554,400 people or 29.1 per cent of our population;
‘Northern Irish only’ - 376,400 people or 19.8 per cent of our population; and
‘British & Northern Irish’ – 151,300 people or 8.0 per cent of our population.
The number of people who are ‘British only’ is down from 722,400 in 2011 to 606,300 in 2021. This fall is counterbalanced, but only partially, by increases in the number of people who identify as ‘British and Northern Irish’, up from 111,700 in 2011 to 151,300 in 2021, and by those who identify as ‘British, Irish and Northern Irish’, up from 18,400 in 2011 to 28,100 in 2021. In contrast, the number of people who are ‘Irish only’ is up from 457,500 in 2011 to 554,400 in 2021. There has also been an increase in the number of people who identify as ‘Irish and Northern Irish’, up from 19,100 in 2011 to 33,600 in 2021, and in those who identify as ‘British, Irish and Northern Irish’ up from 18,400 in 2011 to 28,100 in 2021. The number of people who were recorded as ‘Northern Irish only’ is broadly stable - standing at 379,300 people in 2011 and 376,400 people in 2021. However the total number of people identifying as either ‘British and Northern Irish’ or ‘Irish and Northern Irish’ or ‘British, Irish and Northern Irish’ is up from 149,300 people in 2011 to 213,000 people in 2021. Proportionately the fastest growing group is people with ‘other national identities’ - typically identities from outside UK and Ireland. This group is up from 61,900 people in 2011 (3.4 per cent of the population) to 113,400 people in 2021 (6.0 per cent of the population).