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EDITIONS
Monday, 30 September, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Census analysis: Wales
Merthyr Tydfil mine
There were population losses for Merthyr Tydfil

Wales as a nation is more populous and marginally more elderly than a decade ago, according to the first results from the 2001 census.

A total of 2,903,085 people were resident in Wales on census night, compared to 2,835,073 in 1991. The 2.4% increase is a significantly faster rate of growth than in the 1970s or 1980s.

Overall, the age profile of the Welsh population shows little change. As in 1991, a fifth of people in Wales are aged under 16, and a fifth are of pensionable age.

However, the proportion over 75 has increased from 6.5% in 1991 to 8.3% last year.

Political impact

The population of Wales is slightly more elderly than that of the UK as a whole, and more feminine - there are 1.07 women for every man in Wales, compared to 1.06 across the UK.

The 2001 census results will be read with interest everywhere, but in Wales they have additional political significance.

The 'Barnett Formula' which determines how much money the Assembly is given to spend is partly calculated by population, as is the UK government's contribution towards Objective 1 and Objective 2 funding.

That Wales's population is growing faster than Scotland's could help increase funds, but a still larger population rise in England could see money pulled back to the English regions.


Cardiff's expansion reflects the job opportunities for young professionals created by devolution and the city's recent prosperity

It was concerns about the importance of population size to the Barnett Formula which led mainstream politicians to criticise the boycott of the census by radical Welsh language campaigners protesting at the absence of a 'Welsh' tick-box in the ethnicity question.

Further political issues are raised by the geographically uneven nature of the population change.

The fastest growing county has been Ceredigion (+19.5%), followed by Cardiff (+7.0%), Denbighshire (+7.0%), Monmouth (+6.4%), Powys (+6.2%) and Flintshire (+5.1%). Meanwhile, Blaenau Gwent (-3.3%), Anglesey (-3.4%), Merthyr Tydfil (-5.6%), and Neath Port Talbot (-2.2%) all lost population.

In part this is the product of continuing counterurbanisation - migration from towns to the country. But it also reflects notable changes in Welsh society and the Welsh economy.

The rapid expansion of higher education is evident in Ceredigion and Cardiff - where nearly 17% of residents are aged between 15 and 24 (well above the UK average).

Challenges ahead

Cardiff's expansion also reflects the job opportunities for young professionals created by devolution and the city's recent prosperity - 24.1% of its population is aged between 20 and 34, compared to 18% in Wales as a whole.

Indeed, there is considerable under-representation of 25 to 35 year olds compared to the national trend in a large swathe of Wales including Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouth, Pembrokeshire, Powys and the Vale of Glamorgan, as young people who have gone away to university are unable to find suitable graduate jobs in their home districts.

This has further skewed the age profile in these counties, aided in some areas by retirement migration. For example, the proportion of Anglesey's population that is of pensionable age has increased from 20.5% in 1991 to 28.5% in 2001.

These trends present a tricky challenge for those responsible for economic development strategies, and will add fuel to current debates over planning strategy and access to affordable housing in parts of Welsh-speaking north and west Wales.

Yet this last observation is also a reminder that the most politically significant results of the 2001 census in Wales, the Welsh language statistics, are still to come.


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