#Census2011: The first bare bones of NI’s changing story…

Ten years ago nothing was more eagerly awaited [than the collapse of Stormont? – Ed] than the announcement of the Census figures. Hyper optimism on the nationalist side suggested that the Protestant population might dip below 50% for the first time.

The Census body saw that one coming and finessed the figures so that background became as important as any stated religion. I don’t think it’s putting too fine a point on it to say that many nationalist commentators were disappointed.

The figures released yesterday are detailed and show some interesting contrasts. I’ve not gone through the wider data sets, but there are some predictable patterns and some surprising ones.

This year the headlines are that the population is up by 7% (just one per cent in Belfast and Craigavon, and a whopping 21% in Dungannon)… which means we have to get used to saying 1.8 million rather than 1.7 million.

But there’s been a drop off in school age children across a very wide geographic spread:

The number of children (people aged 0-15 years) in Northern Ireland has fallen by 18,700 (5 per cent), from 398,100 in 2001 to 379,300 in 2011. This decrease in the number of children can be seen in 19 of the 26 LGDs, with a reduction of over 10 per cent in Belfast, Castlereagh, Derry, Limavady and Strabane. Of the 7 LGDs with more children in 2011, the greatest increases were in Banbridge (11 per cent) and Dungannon (9 per cent).

Even in LGDs where the number of children increased since 2001, the growth in the number of children was proportionately below the growth in the overall population. Consequently, the share of the population accounted for by children fell in every LGD.

A big increase in the aged population is no surprise, with the biggest contrasts between two parts of Co Down:

North Down has the oldest age profile in that, of all the LGDs, it has the lowest proportion of children (18 per cent) and the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over (18 per cent). Conversely, Newry & Mourne has the youngest age profile in that, of all the LGDs, it has the highest proportion of children (24 per cent) and one of the lowest proportions of people aged 65 and over (12 per cent).

In North Down the number of people aged 65 and over is similar to the number of children (both 14,500), whereas in Newry & Mourne people aged 65 and over (12,300) are out-numbered almost 2 to 1 by children (23,500).

There were much more detailed questions in last year’s census than ever before. They’re not leaving anything to chance or extrapolation on religion for instance, taking both stated religion and that you were brought up with.

Language questions include one on Ulster Scots and a wider one about what the household language is. I’d expect increases in Polish and Portuguese there.

That comes in what officially they term the second release, and is due any time between November and February next year.

Since the politics of demography has receded somewhat as political mainstay I don’t expect the same near hysteria as greeted the 2001 results in December 2002. But it may be that there are some surprises left in the system.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty