Census reveals English towns, villages and cities with the oldest populations

Many of the areas with the highest median age are on the coast, the figures show.

Ian Jones
Wednesday 02 August 2023 17:52 BST
Water cascades down British seaside town centre as month of rain falls in one day

Seaside villages in Hampshire, Lincolnshire and Devon are among the smallest built-up areas in England with the oldest populations, figures show.

The residents of Barton-on-Sea, near Lymington on the Hampshire coast, have a median average age of 65 – the highest among all similarly-sized communities outside London.

It is followed by Sutton on Sea and Trusthorpe in Lincolnshire, where the median age is 64 years, Budleigh Salterton in Devon (62 years) and Seaton, also in Devon (61 years).

All these places have a normal, residential population of between 5,000 and 19,999 and are classed as large villages or small towns by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which has published the analysis.

The findings are the latest data to be released from the census, which took place on March 21 2021.

They show that of the top 30 small built-up areas in England with the highest median age at the time of the census, only seven are not situated on the coast.

Stoke Gifford in South Gloucestershire has the lowest median age among large villages and small towns, at just 27 years, followed by two areas that have British Army sites: Tidworth in Wiltshire (28 years) and Catterick in North Yorkshire (29 years).

The ONS analysis does not include London, because of the difficulty in identifying individual built-up areas across the capital.

For medium-sized towns outside London, where the population is between 20,000 and 74,999, Rustington in West Sussex has the highest median age, at 56 years; followed by Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex, Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire and Seaford in East Sussex (all 54 years).

Coastal areas again dominate the high end of this list, with only 12 of top 30 not being by the sea.

By contrast, the medium-sized towns with the lowest median age all have sizeable student populations: Canterbury in Kent (27 years) and Hatfield in Hertfordshire (30 years), along with Loughborough in Leicestershire, Egham in Surrey and Durham in County Durham (all 31 years).

Southport (48 years) ranked top of the list among large towns – where the population is between 75,000 and 199,999 – followed by Chesterfield, Eastbourne and Royal Sutton Coldfield (all 45 years).

The large town with the lowest median age is Salford (29 years), followed by Oxford, Oldham and Cambridge (31 years): all areas with big student communities.

Among major cities, where the population numbers at least 200,000, Plymouth topped the list (39 years) and Nottingham and Manchester were bottom (both 30 years).

A total of 6,406 built-up areas were identified in England outside London in the 2021 census.

These include 5,115 “minor” areas: hamlets or tiny villages, where the population is recorded as being between zero and 4,999 and often numbers only a few hundred people.

Some of these areas have an even higher median average age than those found among larger-sized villages – for example, Golden Cross in East Sussex and Torksey Lock in Lincolnshire (both 74 years) and Coalpit Heath in South Gloucestershire (72 years).

The privately-owned retirement village of Elmbridge in Surrey has the highest median age of all, at 84 years.

The figures represent the most detailed breakdown of census data by age and location to be released so far.

Previous data was limited to local authority areas.

The median age is the midpoint of all the ages in a particular population group – in other words, half the population have ages that are above the median and half have ages that are below.

Across the whole population of England, the median age on the day of the 2021 census was 40 years.

Similar figures have been published for Wales, which show the large village or small town with the highest median age is Porthcawl (54 years), followed by Abergele (52 years) and then Kinmel Bay, Llandudno, Llantwit Major and Prestatyn (all 50 years).

Aberystwyth has the lowest median age in this category, at 24 years, ahead of Bangor (26 years) and Abertridwr & Senghenydd (37 years).

Colwyn Bay (47 years) and Neath (44 years) head the list for medium-sized towns, with Pontypridd (37 years) and Barry, Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil at the bottom (all 40 years).

Swansea (38 years) and Newport (37 years) are the only areas in Wales classified as large towns, while Cardiff (34 years) is the only city.

The findings also show that in both England – excluding London – and Wales, the proportion of people born outside the UK increases in step with the size of the built-up area.

In England it rises from 6.4% of people living in hamlets or tiny villages to 22.9% of those in major cities, while in Wales it ranges from 3.9% to 16.7%.

Moor Park in Hertfordshire and Purfleet-on-Thames in Essex have the highest proportion of people born outside the UK (37.4%) of any large village or small town in England excluding London, followed by Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire (35.1%) and Virginia Water in Surrey (31.8%).

Smethwick in the West Midlands has the highest figure for medium-sized towns (40.4%), followed by Hatfield (36.4%) and Nelson in Lancashire (34.4%).

Slough tops the list for large towns (42.1%), ahead of Cambridge (38.1%) and Oxford (34.6%).

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