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Census gives insights into characteristics of the population in England and Wales

Released: 11 December 2012 Download PDF

Statistics published today from the 2011 Census reveal the changing nature of the population of England and Wales.

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

This release of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) details the characteristics of residents in 348 local authorities across England and Wales, covering topics such as ethnicity, religion, country of birth, health, accommodation, tenure, and availability of cars and vans. Full details are given in the Statistical Bulletin and accompanying tables.

Some headline facts of life in England and Wales are that:


  • Most residents of England and Wales belonged to the ‘White’ ethnic group (48.2 million, 86 per cent); this is a 5 percentage point decrease since 2001

  • There were 2.0 million households in England and Wales where partners or other household members were of different ethnic groups, 47 per cent more than in 2001


  • The number of residents who recorded their religion as ‘Christian’ in 2011 was four million lower than in 2001

  • Their numbers fell to 33.2 million (59 per cent) in 2011 from 37.3 million (72 per cent) in 2001

  • People who said they had ‘No religion’ rose by more than six million to 14.1 million, almost double what it was in 2001

Country of birth

  • Of the 7.5 million people in England and Wales on 27 March 2011 who were born outside the UK, just over half arrived in the last 10 years

Passports held

  • 4.8 million residents of England and Wales held a non-UK passport

  • Of these, 2.3 million were other EU passports, and 2.4 million were other foreign passports 


  • For out of every five (81 per cent) of residents in England and Wales described themselves as being in ‘Good’ or ‘Very good’ health

  • 5.8 million (10 per cent) provided unpaid care for someone with an illness or disability

  • More than two million of these people were giving 20 or more hours of care a week


  • Since the 2001 Census the proportion of households owning their home through a mortgage or loan has decreased from 39 per cent to 33 per cent.

  • The proportion owning their homes outright has increased from 29 per cent to 31 per cent, and the proportion who are privately renting has increased by 6 percentage points from 9 to 15 per cent

Cars and vans

  • The number of cars and vans owned across households in England and Wales increased by 3.4 million to 27.3 million between 2001 and 2011 (a 14 per cent increase)

  • In 2011 there was an average of 12 cars for every 10 households – a rise from 11 cars per 10 households in 2001

  • London was the only region where the number of cars and vans was lower than the number of households

Findings around the regions include:

  • In the North East more than two-thirds of the population said they were ‘Christians’: 68 per cent – the highest percentage of all regions

  • Wales had the highest percentage of people stating they have ‘No religion’ (32 per cent). Among England’s regions the highest percentage was found in the South West (29 per cent)

  • In London 3.7 million residents, comprising 45 per cent of the city’s 8.2 million residents, said they were ‘White: British’. This is down from 4.3 million, 60 per cent of residents in 2001 London had the highest percentage of 16-to-64-year-olds (62 per cent) who said their daily activities were not limited by illness

  • Wales had the highest proportion of residents reporting that their day-to-day activities were limited a little or a lot by a long term health problem or disability (23 per cent) than any English region

  • The West Midlands had the highest percentage in England of residents who said they had no recognised qualification (27 per cent)

 Guy Goodwin, ONS’s 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.”

The accompanying Statistical Bulletin for Release 2.1 discusses some of the main topics in more detail. The Bulletin is accompanied by three ‘short stories’, highlights of which are shown below.

International migration

The number of foreign-born residents living in England and Wales increased from 4.6 million in 2001 to 7.5 million in 2011 – 13 per cent of the population. Of these 7.5 million, half arrived between 2001 and 2011.

The top five countries of birth are: India, Poland, Pakistan, Ireland and Germany. Poland was not one of the 10 most commonly stated countries of birth in 2001. 

Ethnicity and identity

People describing themselves as ‘White: British’ have declined by 0.4 million since 2001. They made up 80 per cent of the population, compared with 87 per cent in 2001.

The largest increase in ethnic group between 2001 and 2011 was in the ‘White: Other’ category, which increased by 1.1 million to 2.5 million usual residents in England and Wales. This reflects more than half a million Poles who migrated into England and Wales between 2001 and 2011.


Religion was the only voluntary question in the 2011 Census. Residents could choose between tick box responses of: Christian (all denominations), Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, No religion; or they could write in any other religion.

  • The most popular religion recorded was Christian, as in 2001 

  • The second most common religion was Muslim, with 2.7 million people (4.8 per cent), an increase of 1.8 percentage points since 2001

  • In Wales, nearly two-thirds (32 per cent) of the population stated they have ‘No religion’ – the highest of all regions in England and Wales 

The accompanying Statistical Bulletin for Release 2.1 discusses these topics in more detail.

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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