Northern Ireland news

Census 2021: Over 65s on course to exceed number of children in north by 2026

The number of people aged over 65 will soon exceed the number of under 15s in the north.

THE number of elderly people in Northern Ireland could exceed the number of children by as soon as 2026.

Officials from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) said the 2021 Census revealed a continued fall in the north’s birth rate, with the number of people aged over 65 rising by almost 25 per cent in the past 10 years.

Published on Tuesday, the first data from last year’s census showed the north’s population grew by five per cent, or 90,000, to 1.903 million in the decade since the 2011 Census.

It comprised 967,000 females and 936,000 males.

A more detailed breakdown of the population, including details on religious demographics and data by district, will not be released until the Autumn.

The 1.9 million total, which is the highest on record since 1851, represents a 26 per cent increase (370,000) since 1961.

Census day in the Republic took place on April 3 2022.

However, the Republic’s Central Statistics Office estimates the population surpassed five million across the border in 2021.

It means the total population on the island is now close to seven million, higher than the 6.6 million recorded in 1851.

But NISRA said the population growth in the north has slowed since the 7.5 per cent recorded in the last census, with the latest data showing an increasingly ageing population.

The 326,500 people aged 65 or over in 2021 was 60,000 more than in 2011 and around double the number from 1971.

In contrast, the north’s birth rate has continued to fall, with the number of young children (aged 0-4) down by nine per cent from the last census.

Graph showing how the age demographic of the north has changed through he decades.

Dr David Marshall, director of census and population statistics, said based on current trends, the number of people aged over 65 in Northern Ireland will likely outnumber the number of under-15s by 2026/27.

“Essentially the baby boom generation of the 1950s and 1960s are now reaching retirement age,” he said.

“Those figures will have implications for the delivery of services and the census is essentially the mechanism which helps us understand these figures and helps policy figures plan for the future.”

Dr Marshall said the ‘demographic momentum’ in Northern Ireland is slowing.

“That will mean, unless there is significant migration, (the population) will eventually come to a peak.”

Officials anticipate the north’s population will reach two million, but it might take until the next decade or even the 2040s.

While the population grew by five per cent between 2011 and 2021, the number of households increased by nine per cent to 768,900, double the number from 1961.

It left the average number of people living in a house here at 2.44, down from 2.54 in 2011 and half the 1851 average of five people per house.

Published on Tuesday, the first data from last year’s census showed the north’s population grew by five per cent

“That’s a significant fall from way back in history,” said Dr Marshall.

"But it shows the key demographic information which is critical for the delivery of services.

“The number of households is growing faster than the number of people, and that again is an outcome of population ageing.”

Northern Ireland's Registrar General Siobhan Carey said the 2021 Census had a return rate of 97 per cent.

Around 80 per cent of the public submitted their data online last year.

"I would like to thank the public for their support last year,” said Ms Carey.

"The statistics released today help us to understand our society in terms of ageing and household structure.

"The data will inform decisions on public policy for years to come.”

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