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Government / Local politics

No, British cities are not all young and diverse

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.

When you think of cities, what images come to mind? Trams clattering past as trendy young Devil-Wears-Prada types leap over puddles in overpriced shoes like upmarket gazelles? Small clusters of multicultural people sitting on small patches of grass smiling at each other in effortlessly enjoyable conversation like every university prospectus ever?

All this may just be the quirks of my unsound mind – but the point is, when we think of cities, we think of busy, bustling places, full of young people and people from a whole host of different cultures. Or, in the cruelly unsubtle language of statisticians, immigrants.

With a city like London, that’s obviously true. More than a third of London’s population is foreign-born, making it the most diverse city in Europe.

But much to the chagrin of Londoners, there is a country beyond the M25 – and its cities aren’t all the same. And surprise, surprise, the difference between them in large part reflects the North/South divide – though this isn’t absolute.

Look at the percentage of people born outside the UK living in cities across the country. (The data comes from the 2011 census). You can see that the big-hitting cities in the South and the Midlands have pretty high percentages.

London’s on around about a third, Luton’s on 30 per cent, Oxford’s at 26 per cent, Peterborough’s on 20 per cent, and Coventry comes in at a respectable 21 per cent. To the south of the Wash – my arbitrary metric for where the north starts – there’s a flush of green on the map, showing cities with higher immigrant populations.

North of that point, though, the dots on the map are – more often than not – yellowish, showing lower immigrant populations in those cities.


Take Liverpool, where only 8 per cent of city-dwellers were born outside the UK. Or Hull, also on 8 per cent, Wakefield, with 5 per cent, Wigan, with 3.5 per cent, and Barnsley, with 3 per cent.

That’s not to say that Northern cities are entirely devoid of foreigners, though. Manchester has a very solid 13 per cent, and Bradford comes in at 17 per cent.

Scotland is also a different picture. Dundee has only 9 per cent, but Aberdeen and Edinburgh both have 15 per cent of their residents born outside the UK.

There’s also something happening here with coastal cities all across the country. Belfast only has a 7 per cent first-generation immigrant population, while Plymouth, Basildon, Southend, and Portsmouth all come in around the 7 per cent mark. Swansea and Newport, both cities near the coast in South Wales, report only 6 per cent of citizens who were born outside the UK.

So, that’s our vision of your multicultural friends laughing on a patch of grass put to shame.

The same is true of age, too. Sticking with data from the 2011 census, the colours on this map work the other way around. The greener a city’s dot on the map comes up, the less young it is.

The yellow cities – cities with fewer people over the age of 65 – are mostly clustered in the South and the Midlands. London and Cambridge are on 12 per cent, Oxford and Milton Keynes on 11 per cent, and Crawley and Cardiff have 13 per cent of people over 65.

Further north, those numbers rise. Sheffield, Stoke, Warrington, and Wigan all have around 16 per cent of citizens who are of pension-claiming age.

Again, coastal cities buck that north-south trend. The city with the highest percentage of over-65 residents is Bournemouth, with 22 per cent, and Worthing comes in third with 21 per cent. Swansea, Southend, Newport and Plymouth all make appearances towards the top end of the table.

Looking at 20-29-year-olds – the “peak yuppie” age – reflects much the same pattern (though the colour of the dots is inverted). There are more green dots down south, and more yellow dots up in the Northern Powerhouse.

Oxford and Cambridge come top trumps, with 26 per cent and 25 per cent of their citizens in their 20s, while the coastal cities of Southend and Worthing languish at the bottom of the table, with 11 per cent.

Essentially, the lesson is this: those hip cities filled with youngsters sitting on university-prospectus patches of grass with their multicultural friends? They’re almost certainly inland cities south of the Humber. Plenty of the country’s cities are awash with older people and bereft of many immigrants.

But don’t just take it from me. You can check out the Centre For Cities’ data here.

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