Britain’s ‘demographic divergence’ sees Maldon age rapidly, while Nottingham gets younger

Maldon, Copeland and Richmondshire are ageing twice as fast as the rest of the UK, while areas such as Nottingham and Oxford are growing younger, showing that the country is growing apart as it grows old, according to new Resolution Foundation research published today (Monday).

The report, Ageing, fast and slow, finds that while the UK population as a whole is ageing – one in four are set to be over 65 by 2041 – there are widespread demographic divergences in both the pace and even direction of ageing in different areas.

The report notes that the UK’s average age has been rising steadily – from 36 in 1975 to 40 today. However, a 25-year gap between its oldest and youngest local authorities (54 and 29 respectively) shows that the dynamics of population ageing cannot be fully understand by looking at national changes.

The research shows that 60 local areas across the UK have a higher typical age than Japan (the country with the highest average age of 46), including places like North Norfolk and Rother where the average age is over 50. In contrast, Nottingham and Oxford are among 23 places in the UK that have a younger average age than Chile (which has an average age of 34).

Critically, the report shows that these age differences have been growing over time. This ‘demographic divergence’ is being caused by older places ageing faster, and younger places more slowly, than the UK as a whole.

It finds that between 2001 and 2018, the ten oldest local authorities aged, on average, by nearly five years, compared to just over two years for the same period nationwide. In contrast, the median age of a person in already-young Nottingham has fallen by three years since 2001, and almost one in five of the city’s population are now between the ages of 18 and 24.

Ageing, fast and slow shows that this divide does not map straightforwardly onto incomes as some might expect, with middle-income areas ageing fastest, while both the richest and poorest areas age slowest. Instead, the report finds two key drivers of the UK’s demographic divergence:

  • From coast to city. Young people are leaving rural and coastal communities – which are already older on average than other locations – for urban areas. This internal migration is a key factor behind Nottingham’s ‘anti-ageing’, where the average age of its internal migrants is 25. International migration is also holding down the age of already relatively young places.
  • Birth gaps. Low local birth rates are a key accelerator of ageing in older communities. In the ten fastest-ageing areas of the UK, women aged 15-44 account for just less than 15 per cent of the population, compared to a UK average of 19 per cent. In contrast, poorer urban ethnically diverse areas are ageing more slowly because of high birth rates. The high birth rate in Barking & Dagenham (19 births per 1,000 people, compared to 11 in the UK as a whole) has given it the highest proportion of under 18s in the country.

The Foundation says that increasing divergence between old and young places across the UK will have a lasting impact on local economies, local governments and national politics.

The research finds that the average age of parliamentary constituencies is becoming an increasing determinant of which party’s candidate gets returned to Westminster. Despite an overall trend away from party allegiance, MPs are becoming increasingly reliant on the demographics of their constituencies, with older and younger seats becoming safer for the Conservatives and Labour respectively. The Foundation warns this risks the main parties doubling down on their age-specific supporters, rather than trying to bridge Britain’s generational divides.

For local economies, the report says that policymakers should tailor their economic strategies to local demographics – including benefitting from the potential of young graduates, or the greater spending power of pensioners.

Charlie McCurdy, Researcher at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Everyone knows we’re getting older, but how and where this ageing is taking place is less well understood. Places like North Norfolk, where the average age is now over 50, are ageing rapidly. In Nottingham, however, the average age is under 30 – and the city is actually getting younger.

“Britain is growing apart as it ages because many rural and coastal communities are welcoming fewer babies each year, while migration within the UK and from abroad has seen younger people concentrating in urban areas that are already relatively young.

“This demographic divergence needs to be better understood by both policymakers and politicians, with implications for our local economies and national politics.”