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Census gives insights into characteristics of the South West’s population

Released: 11 December 2012 Download PDF

Statistics published today from the 2011 Census reveal the changing characteristics of the population in every region of England and Wales and the 348 local authorities that form them. These statistics cover topics such as ethnicity, religion, country of birth, health, accommodation, tenure, and availability of cars and vans. Further details are given in the Statistical Bulletin and accompanying tables.

This release supplements the figures published in July 2012, which put the total population of England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011) at 56.1 million – an increase of 3.7 million (7 per cent) since 2001.

There were 5.3 million residents in the South West. This was an increase of some 345,000 (7 per cent) since 2001, and represents 9 per cent of the population of England and Wales.

The median age of the region was 42, 3 years higher than the England and Wales average. Within the region this ranged from 33 in Bristol to 51 in West Somerset.

Guy Goodwin, ONS Director of Census, said:

“These statistics paint a picture of society and help us all plan for the future using accurate information at a local level.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of census statistics. Further rich layers of vital information will be revealed as we publish more detailed data for very local levels over the coming months.”

Some headline facts of life in the South West are:


Jointly with the South East, the South West had the smallest proportion of ‘socially rented local authority’ households (6 per cent).

The South West had the highest proportion (35 per cent) of households in England that owned their homes outright.  Five of the top 10 local authorities in England and Wales with the highest proportion of households that owned their homes outright were in the South West:

East Dorset, East Devon, Christchurch, West Somerset, and West Dorset. East Dorset had the highest proportion at 48 per cent.


Top 10 ethnic groups

South West, 2011, All usual residents

Rank Ethnic group Thousands Per cent
1 White: English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British 4,856 91.8
2 White: Other White 157 3.0
3 Asian/Asian British: Indian 34 0.6
4 Asian/Asian British: Other Asian 29 0.5
5 White: Irish 29 0.5
6 Mixed/multiple ethnic group: White and Black Caribbean 26 0.5
7 Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: African 24 0.5
8 Asian/Asian British: Chinese 22 0.4
9 Mixed/multiple ethnic group: White and Asian 21 0.4
10 Mixed/multiple ethnic group: Other Mixed 16 0.3
  Total population 5,289  

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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The South West  had the highest proportion of people in England declaring their ethnicity as ‘White’ (at 95 per cent).  This is a 2 percentage point decrease since 2001, the smallest of all the regions.

The South West region had the lowest proportions of ‘Pakistani’, ‘Bangladeshi’ and ‘Chinese’  residents (all at less than 1 per cent).

Tewkesbury is ranked ninth highest of local authorities in England and Wales for people declaring themselves as ‘White:Gypsy/IrishTraveller’ (0.4 per cent).

Torridge is ranked eighth highest of all local authorities in England and Wales for people declaring themselves ‘White: English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British’.


Top 5 religions

South West, 2011, All usual residents

Rank Religion Thousands Per cent
1 Christian 3,194 60.4
2 Muslim (Islam) 51 1.0
3 Buddhist 20 0.4
4 Hindu 16 0.3
5 Pagan 9 0.2
  Total population 5,289  

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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In the South West there was a decrease of 12 per cent in the proportion of people who stated their religious affiliation as ‘Christian’, as in most regions of England and Wales between 2001 and 2011. In 2011, 60 per cent of residents in this region were Christian.

The South West had the lowest proportion of Muslims (1 per cent) in England and Wales, the lowest proportion of Sikhs (0.1 per cent), and the highest proportion of Buddhists (0.4 per cent) in England and Wales.

Purbeck and West Somerset had the smallest proportion of Hindus (below 0.1 per cent) of all local authorities in England and Wales.

Two of the 5 local authorities with the smallest proportion of Muslims were in the South West: Forest of Dean and West Somerset (both 0.1 per cent).

Country of birth

Top 15 countries of birth

South West, 2011, All usual residents

Rank Country of birth Thousands Per cent
1 England 4,685 88.6
2 Wales 104 2.0
3 Scotland 74 1.4
4 Poland 45 0.9
5 Germany 32 0.6
6 India 26 0.5
7 Ireland 24 0.5
8 Northern Ireland 20 0.4
9 South Africa 17 0.3
10 United States 12 0.2
11 China 10 0.2
12 Australia 9 0.2
13 Hong Kong 9 0.2
14 Philippines 9 0.2
15 France 8 0.2
  Total population 5,289  

Table source: Office for National Statistics

Download table

In 2011 there were 405,000 foreign-born residents in the South West, 8 per cent of the usual resident population. Bournemouth, Bristol and Swindon had the highest proportions of foreign-born usual residents within the South West, with 15 per cent, 15 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.


In the South West 21 per cent of people aged 16 and over had no recognised qualification. This is 6 percentage points lower than the proportion with a qualification of degree level or above.

Health and provision of unpaid care

The South West had 18 per cent of people whose day to day activities were limited by a long term health problem or disability. This region had 11 per cent of its people providing unpaid care for someone with an illness or disability.

For further information:

Media Line:  01329 447654  


Visit: for more detailed analysis and information


Data visualisation: 

Use this link to access interactive maps on topics such as Religion, Car ownership, Ethnicity, Dwelling type, Tenure, Year of arrival and Health. They can be embedded/used in websites using the code supplied in the maps. The maps can 'deeplink' into specific views of the data (ie a specific area and/or variable selection). Some maps are split screen, allowing graphical comparisons of 2001 with 2011 changes.

Background notes

  1. The census provides the most accurate estimate possible for the population of England and Wales and has been carried out every 10 years since 1801, apart from 1941, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The information provided to ONS is used solely for the census, is anonymised and protected for 100 years. Census day was on 27 March 2011. All census population numbers refer to that day.
  2. Government uses the census statistics to allocate funding for services such as education, transport and health. Policy makers in central and local government use the census to identify the needs of different communities and they are also used by commercial enterprises. It also provides the benchmark for future population estimates and for sample surveys.
  3. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the National Statistics Code of Practice. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.
  4. The regions referred to conform to standard statistical regions. It is not possible to compare data for some geographies between 2011 and 2001 because of local authority reorganisation in this period.
  5. The next release of census data is scheduled for 30 January 2013.This will give Key and Quick Statistics tables at output area, wards parish and parliamentary constituency geographies. These will be accompanied by a statistical bulletin and census analysis. By the end of February 2013 Key and Quick Statistics for the remaining geographies such as National Parks will be published. Further information about each of the existing and planned census outputs is available via an online prospectus as:
  6. Census results are set out in tables under Key statistics and Quick statistics. Key statistics provide summary figures that cover the full range of results from the census. They are presented in a tabular format, with figures as both numbers and percentages, to allow comparison across different areas. Quick statistics contain data which refer to one variable and its response categories from a census question. Because of this, cross-tabulation is not possible at this stage.
  7. The main population base for outputs from the 2011 Census is the usual resident population as at census day 27 March 2011. A ‘usual resident’ of the UK is anyone who, on census day, was in the UK and had stayed or intended to stay in the UK for a period of 12 months or more, or had a permanent UK address and was outside the UK and intended to be outside the UK for less than 12 months.
  8. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

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