02What are the demographic profiles of English and Welsh cities?

1. Residents in city centres, particularly those in large cities, are younger than those in suburbs and hinterlands

There are many more young adults in city centres than in other parts of cities, with around one in three aged between 20 and 29 (Figure 2). In suburbs, residents tend to be older, or under 19, suggesting that families with children are more likely to locate in these areas. In the rural hinterlands, 45-64 year olds make up the largest share of residents, and the over 65s make up more than double the share of residents that they do in city centres.

Figure 2: Age breakdown within cities

Age in city centre suburb hinterland

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data

As Figure 3 shows, the young profile of city centres overall is driven by large cities, rather than London, or medium and small cities. Almost half (49 per cent) of the residents of large-city centres are aged between 20 and 29, compared to 30 per cent or less in other cities.

Figure 3: Age breakdown across city centres

Age in London Large Medium Small Cities

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

People aged between 20 and 29 are also the largest group in the city centres of small and medium cities. But what distinguishes city centres of small and medium cities, as well as London, from those of large cities is the substantially higher share of those aged over 45.

2. The majority of city centre residents are single

Just as residents in city centres are likely to be younger, they are also more likely to be single (Figure 4). Nearly half of residents in city centres are single, while just 22 per cent of residents are married or in a civil partnership and living together.

Figure 4: Living arrangements within cities

Living Arrangements

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

This pattern is reversed in suburbs and hinterlands, reflecting the tendency of people to locate further away from the city centres as they get older, get married or cohabit, and start families. In the suburbs, single people make up 29 per cent of all residents, but married couples living together make up 43 per cent.

In the hinterlands, 51 per cent of residents are married and living in a couple. Single people, meanwhile, make up just 21 per cent of all residents. And while the trend is broadly similar between suburbs and hinterlands, the proportion of widowed residents is highest in hinterlands.

3. City centre residents are most likely to live in a flat

Three quarters of residents living in city centres live in a flat or an apartment (Figure 5). In suburbs, just over a quarter of residents live in flats but one in three live in semi-detached accommodation. Detached and semi-detached houses are the most common type of housing in the hinterlands.

Figure 5: Accommodation type within cities

Accomodation Type

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

London has the highest share of households that live in flats, at 90 per cent, followed by large cities (83 per cent). The city centres of small cities have the smallest proportion of flats. This reflects the higher population densities of London and large-city centres.

Levels of home ownership are much lower in city centres than in suburbs or hinterlands. 73 per cent of people rent in city centres, compared to 29 per cent in hinterlands. Small-city centres have the highest rate of home ownership, while it is lowest in large-city centres – more than half of households in large-city centres are privately rented. Interestingly, the most common tenure in central London is social rentership – the result of the large amount of social housing stock in central London.

4. Residents in city centres are more likely to be students than residents living elsewhere

The proportion of city centre residents who are employed (42 per cent) is lower than in other areas of the city (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Economic activity within cities

Economic Activity city centre suburb hinterland-01

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

In suburbs and hinterlands the shares of employed residents are 45 and 47 per cent respectively. In city centres, students make up one in four residents, much higher than in suburbs and hinterlands. Compared to suburbs and hinterlands, the residents of city centres are also less likely to be economically inactive: 14 per cent of city centre residents are inactive, compared to 18 in suburbs and hinterlands.

Again, the trend is not the same across all city centres. In large-city centres, students account for 44 per cent of all city centre residents, while employed residents make up just 35 per cent of the total (Figure 7). London has the smallest share of students (16 per cent), and almost half (49 per cent) of all its residents are in employment.

Figure 7: Economic activity of residents across city centres

Economic Activity London Large Medium Small Cities

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

In medium- and small-city centres there are bigger shares of people who are economically inactive: 18 per cent in medium-city centres and 17 per cent in small-city centres, compared to just 9 per cent in large-city centres.

5. Residents in city centres are well educated

People living in city centres are more highly educated than residents living in other parts of cities (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Highest level of qualification attained within cities

Highest level of qualification

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

One third (35 per cent) of working-age people living in city centres have a degree, compared to 27 per cent in suburbs and hinterlands. Over half (54 per cent) of city centre residents have at least A-level or equivalent qualifications.

City centres also have the lowest share of people (25 per cent) with either no formal qualifications or level 1 qualifications. In suburbs and hinterlands, 36 per cent of residents are in this category.

Large-city centres have a higher share of residents with high qualifications (37 per cent) than the city centre average. Half of central London residents have a degree, compared to 25 per cent of residents in medium sized city centres and 24 per cent in small-city centres. One in five residents in medium- and small-city centres have no formal qualifications, compared to below one in 10 (9 per cent) in large-city centres and 13 per cent in London.

Just as city centre residents in London and large cities are more highly qualified, they are also most likely to be employed in highly skilled professional jobs (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Occupations across city centres

Occupation City Centres

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

London in particular has the highest share of residents who are managers or senior officials, professionals or associate professionals (66 per cent). City centres of small cities, on the other hand, have the highest share of residents working in lower skilled occupations – sales and customer service, process, plant and machine operatives, and elementary occupations (38 per cent).

6. City centre residents are less likely to use a car to get to work

In city centres, the proportion of residents who walk to work (32 per cent) is more than three times as high as in the suburbs and hinterlands (10 per cent). In city centres, less than a quarter commute by car or van, compared to just over a half in suburbs and two thirds in hinterlands (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Method of travel to work within cities

Method of travel to work city centre suburb hinterland

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

This reflects the fact that city centre residents live closer to their workplace. 56 per cent travel less than 5km to work – while just 30 per cent of residents in the rural hinterlands travel less than 5km.

But these travel patterns are not uniform across all city centres (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Method of travel to work across city centres

Method of travel to work London large small city

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

In London, just under a quarter of all journeys are made by underground, and 8 per cent are made by car. In large-city centres, residents are more likely to walk, with 42 per cent of journeys to work made on foot, but they are also more likely to drive – journeys made by car account for a quarter of all journeys. As cities get smaller, commutes become longer, more journeys are made by car and fewer are made on foot. In small-city centres, 40 per cent of all journeys are made by car.

7. City centres are home to a significant immigrant population

In 2011, of the 56 million residents of England and Wales, 7.5 million were foreign-born. Cities and their hinterlands are home to nearly 95 per cent of them.

Across the different parts of a city, the share of immigrants is significantly higher in the city centres (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Migration within cities

Migration centre suburb hinterland

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

On average, 35 per cent of city centre residents in 2011 were born outside of the UK. While the suburbs are home to the majority of immigrants – nearly 5.5 million immigrants (73 per cent of all immigrants across England and Wales) live there – this only represents 18 per cent of the total suburban population. Hinterlands are the least likely to be home to foreign-born residents, who make up 7 per cent of the total hinterland population.

Some cities are more likely than others to be home to foreign-born residents (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Migration across city centres

Migration London Large Medium Small

Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data.

Central London has the highest proportion of international migrants, accounting for 45 per cent of the total resident population. In large-city centres, one in three residents is foreign-born. City centres of small and medium sized cities have relatively lower shares of foreign migrants – 29 and 27 per cent respectively – but these shares are still significantly higher than suburbs and hinterlands on average.

Box 2: How London differs from other cities

London is more than just the UK’s largest city. Its success and growth meant that in 2014, the city as a whole accounted for 16 per cent of all jobs and one quarter of the UK’s economic output.8 And its dominant position in the economy means that residential patterns in the capital are very different to other large cities in England and Wales.

Residents in central London are highly qualified and most likely to be managers or professionals, but less likely to own their home than in small cities. This primarily reflects the high demand for housing in central London, where high house prices pushes those wanting to own their home into the suburbs.

London’s house prices – the second-least affordable in the UK – help to explain why younger residents in central London are more likely to be priced out, and are not the dominant group as they are in other large-city centres. The demand for housing, as well as good intra-city public transport, has meant that this young, professional demographic, which in other large cities is found in the city centre, has instead spilled out into London’s suburbs.

53 per cent – the highest share in England and Wales – of all working residents in London’s city centre work in the city centre. This reflects the high concentration of jobs in central London. Partly as a result of this high containment, London’s travel patterns are characterised by a higher share of commuters travelling short distances. The most common method of travel in central London is on foot, while a higher share of journeys are made by bicycle than in other city centres. The capital’s extensive transport network and good transport provision mean that public transport is much more commonly used than private transport, unlike in other city centres.


In 2011, city centre residents were markedly different across a range of demographic characteristics compared to residents of suburbs and hinterlands:

  • The typical resident of a city centre in 2011 was younger and more likely to be single than their suburban or rural counterparts, who were more likely to be married and living together, indicating that residential preferences change as people get older.
  • Students made up a significant proportion of city centre residents, especially in large-city centres.
    City centre residents were more highly-skilled and more likely to work in a professional occupation than residents elsewhere.
  • City centre residents were much more likely to rent a flat or an apartment. Suburban residents were more likely to own semi-detached homes, while residents in hinterlands were more likely to own semi-detached or detached homes.
  • City centre living allowed people to travel shorter distances to work, and a greater share of these commutes were made on foot, by bicycle or on public transport. Residents in hinterlands were most reliant on cars for transport.
  • In 2011, whilst the majority of foreign-born residents lived in suburban areas, as a share of the population, in city centres more than one in three residents were born outside the UK.