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  • Writer's picturePeter Boden

Census 2021

The 2021 Census took place on Sunday March 21st.

In what is potentially the last of its kind (to be replaced by a mix of administrative sources), the 2021 Census will provide a timely update on the population of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Scotland’s own Census delayed due to the pandemic.

I was first recorded in 1966 age 2, in the middle of the 60s baby boom. A young family of five living in a two-bedroom terrace in Stirchley, Birmingham. It was the first census to capture car ownership and method of travel to work. The population of the UK stood at 54.5 million.

Just after decimalisation in 1971, our family of five had by this time moved to a Cadbury house on the Bournville Trust estate. One of almost 1,000,000 seven-year-olds and a UK population that had risen to 55.9 million in the Census count.

10 years later in 1981, we were all still at the same address. I’m almost 18 years old, contemplating university, still believing I’ll be a professional footballer one day. It’s a tough time. A UK population of 56.4 million, with 2.5 million people unemployed and a year of rioting on the streets of Brixton Toxteth and Handsworth.

Suddenly it’s 1991 and I’m 27. A move to Leeds, a degree, a PhD, then finally, employment. Eight changes of address in the student and private rented sector over the decade but now resident as an owner occupier of a terraced house, purchased with a mortgage interest rate at 15%. Ethnicity and illness questions in the Census for the first time and a UK population that had risen by another million to 57.4 million.

By 2001 just at the end of the dotcom boom and I’m not far off 40 years old. Ten rollercoaster years of employment in the data science industry. Captured in the Census as married with three young daughters, living in a bigger, semi-detached property but in the same Census ward as ten years earlier. A first Census question on religion and a UK population that had jumped to 59.1 million.

It’s 2011 in the blink of an eye, we’re climbing out of austerity but the pace of life just seems to increase. I’m 47, running my own business. Still married, a growing family of young women and a short-distance migration to a detached property, still in the same Census ward. The Census includes civil partnerships for the first time and records a sharp rise of 4m in the UK population over 10 years to reach 63.1 million.

And now it’s 2021. Students and elderly parents have come and gone to temporarily change our household size from 5 to 7 to 2 then back up to 4. The pandemic changes everything. Somehow, I now find myself in my late fifties, with the business now owned by its employees. And still married.

I’ve always been fascinated by people and places. Geography and the process of demographic change. I’ve been captured in six Censuses and I’ve spent the last 35 years using Census statistics for a diverse mix of academic and commercial research and analysis.

The 2021 Census follows ten years of relatively high population growth, brought to a sharp halt by the global pandemic. We need its socio-demographic statistical outputs; they will underpin macro and micro-area planning activities for many years to come.

Everybody has their own Census history. It’s nice to reflect.

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