Which English cities have the youngest populations?

A woman pushes a pram along London's Lewisham High Street in December 2012. 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.

Bloody kids. They're everywhere, aren't they? With their fun and their games and their boundless sense of wonder about the magic of the world, the smug little-

Actually, that's not quite true: as it turns out, some cities are far more child-friendly than others. Data from the 2011 census shows that, in Bournemouth, around 21.1 per cent of the population was aged under 20. In Bradford, at the same time, it was 28.8 per cent – a good third higher.

Here's the map (sadly, the data only covers England and Wales). As ever, darker dots mean higher numbers, and you can hover over a city to get the details. (Note, May 2018: This data seems to have been deleted from the database. Bum. But here is something comparable.)

The cities with the fewest young people correlate quite closely with those with the greatest number of elderly ones (which we looked at last week): a bunch of coastal towns plus, er, Norwich.

This is probably a matter of mathematical inevitability. By definition, a higher proportion of over 65s means a lower proportion of under 65s. Old people are also less likely to have resident children than people in their 30s or 40s.

The cities at the other end of the spectrum take more explaining. Here are the 10 with the highest proportion of under 20s:

Normally at this point, we'd note that the economies of all these cities have something obvious in common, smugly pat ourselves on the back, and move on. But we can't do that here: this looks like a fairly random assortment of places. Some of them (Milton Keynes, Peterborough) are boom towns, that can attract young families through both good jobs and affordable housing. But others (Bradford, Blackburn) really don’t fit this profile. So what's going on?


One thing a lot of these places do have in common is a large ethnic minority population: Peterborough is a centre of Britain's Polish community; Bradford has a large Asian community; Leicester and Birmingham are two of the most diverse cities in Britain.

This probably isn't a coincidence. Ethnic minority populations tend to have a younger age profile: because Britain's diversity is a function of the last 50 years, they tend to have a smaller proportion of elderly people, and a larger proportion of everyone else.

That means that, when you’re looking at the numbers as a proportion of the overall population, you’ll both more young families, and more kids.

That might change over time, though. Check out this graph from the Office of National Statistics, based on 2001 census data:

All ethnic minority populations were "younger" than the white ones. But the black Caribbean one, which dates back to the late 1940s, had a much larger share of elderly people than the Asian ones, which date from a generation later. It seems likely that, as time goes on, the age profile of ethnic minority communities will look more and more like that of the white British population.

But they’ll never get there completely, purely because Britain’s immigrant population tends to be younger too. According to a briefing from the Migration Observatory at Oxford published last year, nearly 38 per cent of foreign-born workers in Britain were in the 25-35 year old age group in 2013; only 25 per cent of UK-born workers were in that group. Because people move to Britain to work, rather than to retire, that’s not likely to change.

One last chart. Here's the correlation between the proportion of city populations under 20, and the proportion born overseas. 

The correlation isn't perfect. A few places (London, Oxford, Cambridge) have diverse populations but relatively few kids. (We're guessing this is a combination of high house prices and large student populations at work.) 

Generally speaking, though, a more diverse population seems to mean more kids.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.