In England and Wales, the cities with the oldest populations are all by the seaside

A senior citizen walking their dog in the Welsh resort of Llandudno. Image: Getty.

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

In 1929, when King George V was recovering from lung surgery, his doctors suggested he move to the seaside for a bit on the grounds that sea air would help him recover. And so, the royal court upped sticks for a bit to the West Sussex Town of Bognor Regis.

This treatment worked, in so far as the king lived for another seven years. But he clearly didn't think much of much of the place, because he moved out again about as soon as he could, and the last words he uttered before expiring in 1936 were reported to have been "Bugger Bognor".

Anyway – the point I'm getting at here is that, for one reason or another, elderly people seem inexorably drawn to the coast. In countries with hot bits, this makes a certain kind of sense, but in Britain we don't have a Florida: we just have a lot of faded Victorian resort towns like Frinton, Eastbourne, and Hove.

Nonetheless, the clichés about coastal towns turn out to be true. Check out this map of English and Welsh cities, colour coded by the share of their population over the age of 65. As ever, darker colours mean higher numbers. In all, according to the 2011 census, 16.4 per cent of the UK population was aged 65 of over (a figure that's certainly risen since). So, dark green dots are older than average; pale green and yellow are younger than average. You can click on the dots for more detail.

The correlation isn't perfect (when is anything). But you can immediately see that coastal cities tend to have older populations.

To hammer this home, here's the top 10. We've coloured the coastal towns blue, because the sea is blue.

These figures only include larger communities, of course: in many smaller towns, the share of the population that's of pensionable age can be far higher.

According to figures release by the Office for National Statistics last year, in our old friend Bognor Regis, some 26 per cent of the population is over 65 – but that doesn't even scrape into the top 10. The very oldest town seems to be the Suffolk resort of Southwold, where fully half of the population is over 65.

Demographics like this can put a lot of pressure on local services: old people need more healthcare and social support. ONS figures suggest that seaside resorts tend to be among Britain's most depressed towns, too: in a 2013 ranking of the most deprived towns in England were Blackpool, Skegness and Clacton.

It’s not clear that the presence of a large retiree population was a factor in economic decline: more likely, the ONS has said, the decline of industries like tourism and fishing were to blame.

But what is clear is that more economically vibrant cities tend to have fewer retirees. Just to complete the picture, here are the 10 cities with the smallest proportion of old people:

Seven of those places are in the zone stretching from London to the west, where cities are most productive.

What's probably happening here is that people of working age are attracted to these cities, to be near jobs. That not only reduces the share of their populations that are of retirement age – it also gives older homeowners a great chance to cash out and move somewhere with a pier.


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.