Census 2021: First Results


Greater Manchester’s population in the 2021 Census is estimated to be 2,867,800.  This is an increase of 185,272 on the 2011 Census final estimate and represents a growth of 6.9% in the ten years, higher than the growth across England and Wales (6.3%) over the same period.  All Greater Manchester local authorities have seen population growth since 2011 with the highest rate of growth being in Salford (15.4%).  The City of Manchester’s population has grown by the most within Greater Manchester an increase of 48,873 in the ten years.  Amongst the 36 metropolitan districts in England only Birmingham (71,855) had a larger actual growth than Manchester.  Salford (15.4%) had the highest actual percentage growth of any metropolitan district.


  • The Census takes place every ten years and the information it produces underpins the allocation of billions of pounds of public money to provide services like education, transport and health. The latest Census was held on Sunday 21 March 2021.  The first release results were published on 28 June   In this first release there are rounded population figures by five-year age bands (0-4, 5-9, 10-14 etc.) and gender for all local authorities plus supporting information on how the final estimates were calculated.  In addition to population, there are statistics on households, again at the local authority level.  The 2021 Census achieved its overall target response rate of 94% of the usually resident population of England and Wales and achieved response rates of 90% or more in all local authorities.
  • This briefing provides a summary of the headline population figures from the first release, looking at trends within Greater Manchester and comparing local change to other areas: metropolitan counties and core cities. GMCA will also soon be producing separate briefings on change across the age-bands in the Greater Manchester districts and changes in the number of households across the conurbation.
  • The information released so far is only a small fraction of the total outputs from the 2021 Census. There will be further releases in the first phase over the coming months.  The second release phase will take place during winter 2022 and will contain much more detailed information on a number of topics[1] for a range of geographies.  There will be a third release phase during spring and summer 2023.  GMCA will be producing briefings on the topics covered by the Census in the releases as the data becomes available.

[1] Second release topics to include: education, housing, migration, health, disability, unpaid care, labour market, travel to work, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and armed forces.  These will be made available at most of the geographical levels: statistical areas (e.g. Output Areas the smallest zones and upwards), local authorities, counties etc. Census data will also be “best-fitted” to wards as they were at May 2022.

National Trends

  • The population of England and Wales (59,597,300) was the largest ever recorded in a Census. The population of England is 56,489,800 and the population of Wales is 3,107,500.  The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.521 million, or 6.3%, since 2011.  This is a slightly slower growth than occurred in the previous decade.
  • Across England and Wales 42.5% of the growth since 2011 is due to births exceeding deaths and the remaining 57.5% is due to inward migration exceeding outward migration.
  • A continuing trend is the increase in the number of people in the older age groups across England and Wales with 18.6% of the population now aged 65 and over compared to 16.4% in 2011.
  • Of the 331 authority areas there was population increase in 313 and a population decline in 18 authorities since 2011.

Metropolitan Counties

  • Greater Manchester remains the second largest of the metropolitan counties in terms of population. The population of the West Midlands metropolitan county is 1.8% larger.  Both have increased population in actual and percentage terms at very similar rates with the changes very slightly higher in Greater Manchester.  Ten of the 36 metropolitan authorities grew faster than England and Wales (6.3%) with four of these in Greater Manchester – Salford (15.4%), Manchester (9.7%), Oldham (7.6%) and Bolton (6.9%).  Indeed, Salford shows the highest percentage growth amongst these 36 metropolitan areas and Manchester has the third highest rate of growth amongst the metropolitan areas.  Three metropolitan areas show a decline of population South Tyneside (-0.2%), Sunderland (-0.5%) and Gateshead (-2.1%).  Overall, the metropolitan counties grew slightly slower (5.1%) than England and Wales (6.3%).

Table 1: Population change in the metropolitan areas (sorted by percentage change)

Area Census 2011 Census 2021 (rounded) Population change 2011-2021 Population change 2011-2021 (percentage)
Greater Manchester (10 local authorities) 2,682,528 2,867,800 185,272 6.9%
West Midlands (7 local authorities) 2,736,460 2,919,600 183,140 6.7%
West Yorkshire (5 local authorities) 2,226,058 2,351,600 125,542 5.6%
Merseyside (5 local authorities) 1,381,189 1,423,300 42,111 3.0%
South Yorkshire (4 local authorities) 1,343,601 1,375,100 31,499 2.3%
Tyne and Wear (5 local authorities) 1,104,825 1,127,200


All Metropolitan Counties 11,474,661 12,064,600 589,939 5.1%

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government License.

Core Cities

  • The core cities in England are: the City of Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. All have grown in population terms since 2011, with Manchester the fastest growing of the northern core cities.  The percentage population increase in most core cities was higher than the average percentage rise across England and Wales.  The total growth in the eight core cities was 286,939 and their population grew collectively by 6.6%.  Birmingham had the largest increase (71,855) and is much larger than the other core cities with a population of 1,144,900.  Manchester grew much faster than Sheffield and they now have very similar population totals with 552,000 residents in Manchester compared to 556,400 in Sheffield.  In population terms Manchester is the sixth largest authority in England and Wales and the fourth largest city and now larger than Bradford whose population grew at half the rate of Manchester. [2]

[2] Cornwall (570,300) and Buckinghamshire (553,100) authority areas are larger than Manchester but were created through the merger of several smaller authorities.

Table 2: Population change in the core cities (sorted by percentage change)

Core cities Population change 2011-2021 Percentage population change 2011-2021
Bristol, City of UA 44,166 10.3%
City of Manchester 48,873 9.7%
Leeds 60,515 8.1%
Newcastle upon Tyne 20,023 7.1%
Birmingham 71,855 6.7%
Nottingham 18,020 5.9%
Liverpool 19,685 4.2%
Sheffield 3,802 0.7%
England and Wales 3,521,388 6.3%

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government License.

North West Region

  • All English regions experienced population growth with higher growth in the southern and central regions of England. The North West’s population changed from 7,046,778 to 7,417,300 a rise of 370,522 or 5.3% which is slightly below the growth rate of 6.3% across England and Wales.  In the North West’s 39 authorities there was population growth in 35.  In percentage terms population growth was highest in Salford (15.4%), Chorley (9.9%) and Manchester (9.7%).  50% of the population growth in the region since 2011 has occurred in Greater Manchester.  Growth in Manchester and Salford accounting for 84,840 of the total regional population growth.
  • Greater Manchester’s population of 2,867,800 accounts for 38.7% of the North West’s total population – slightly higher than the proportion in 2011 of 38.0% of the regional total. The population of Greater Manchester increased by 6.9% and is now double that of Merseyside (1,423,300) which grew by 3.0% in the ten years.
  • Some of the more rural areas of the region especially in Cumbria experienced slight population decline. These were Allerdale (-0.3%), Blackpool (-0.7%), Barrow-in-Furness (-2.4%) and Copeland (-5.0%)

Greater Manchester Results

  • The Greater Manchester population has increased by 6.9% since 2011 with 185,272 more residents estimated to be living in the conurbation. Rates of growth in Greater Manchester vary from 15.4% in Salford to 3.6% in Wigan.  In numerical terms growth was highest in Manchester with an additional 48,873 residents.  Though growth was lower in Bury (8,740) and Trafford (8,522) their growth was still higher than most other areas across the North West.

Table 3: Population change in Greater Manchester, 2011-2021

Area Census 2011 Census 2021 (rounded) Population change 2011-2021 Percentage population change 2011-2021
Bolton 276,786 296,000 19,214 6.9%
Bury 185,060 193,800 8,740 4.7%
Manchester 503,127 552,000 48,873 9.7%
Oldham 224,897 242,100 17,203 7.6%
Rochdale 211,699 223,800 12,101 5.7%
Salford 233,933 269,900 35,967 15.4%
Stockport 283,275 294,800 11,525 4.1%
Tameside 219,324 231,100 11,776 5.4%
Trafford 226,578 235,100 8,522 3.8%
Wigan 317,849 329,300 11,451 3.6%
Greater Manchester 2,682,528 2,867,800 185,272 6.9%
North West 7,052,177 7,417,300 365,123 5.2%
England and Wales 56,075,912 59,597,300 3,521,388 6.3%

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government License. Census 2011 and 2021.

  • Only four authorities experienced greater population growth than Manchester since 2021. They were Birmingham (71,855 increase), Leeds (60,515), Tower Hamlets (56,204) and West Northamptonshire (50,599).  Birmingham (now 1,144,900) and Leeds (now 812,000) remain the two most populous authorities.
  • In terms of percentage growth since 2011 there were just nine authorities with a higher percentage growth than Salford (15.4% increase). Most of these were in or near London and smaller authorities with only two having a larger population than Salford – Tower Hamlets (310,300) and Central Bedfordshire (294,200).

Figure 1: Population change 2011 to 2021 in England and Wales local authorities

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Source: Office of National Statistics – Census 2021

Table 4: Population change over 30 years, 1991-2021

Area Census 1991 Census 2021 (rounded) Population change 1991-2021 Percentage population change 1991-2021
Bolton 258,584 296,000 37,416 14.5%
Bury 176,760 193,800 17,040 9.6%
Manchester 404,861 552,000 147,139 36.3%
Oldham 216,531 242,100 25,569 11.8%
Rochdale 202,164 223,800 21,636 10.7%
Salford 220,463 269,900 49,437 22.4%
Stockport 284,395 294,800 10,405 3.7%
Tameside 216,431 231,100 14,669 6.8%
Trafford 212,731 235,100 22,369 10.5%
Wigan 306,521 329,300 22,779 7.4%
Greater Manchester 2,499,441 2,867,800 368,359 14.7%
North West 6,726,860 7,417,300 690,440 10.3%
England and Wales 49,890,277 59,597,300 9,707,023 19.5%

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government License. Census 2011 and 2021.

  • The population of Greater Manchester declined in the 1970s and 1980s particularly in the inner core of the conurbation. The turning point in population terms for Greater Manchester occurred at the end of the 1980s.  Since then, there has been significant growth especially at the centre of the conurbation in Manchester and Salford.  Population rises in our two cities have accounted for 53% of the overall population rise in the 30 years across Greater Manchester.  Just under 200,000 more now live in these two authorities than was the case at the start of the 1990s.  The growth rate of Manchester is nearly double the rate across England and Wales in the thirty years.

Figure 2: Original Census population estimates for Greater Manchester 1981-2021

(Note there was a Census undercount in Manchester in 2001. The population of Manchester and GM started to rise earlier than 2001.)

Year Population amount
1981 2,575,407
1991 2,499,441
2001 2,482,328
2011 2,682,528
2021 2,867,800

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government License. Census 2011 and 2021.

  • Since the early 1990s no other authority area of broadly a similar population size to Manchester back then has increased in percentage terms by as much since (36.3%). Only smaller authorities have increased by more such as Cambridge (58.5%) and Milton Keynes (62.8%).  In absolute terms not surprisingly Birmingham the largest authority in 1991 increased by the most (183,859).  Only Tower Hamlets increased by more than Manchester (149,236) in absolute and percentage terms (92.7%) over the 30 years.


  • The broad trends, of continuing population growth, that we see for Greater Manchester and especially the cities of Manchester and Salford over the past ten years are a continuation of the changes experienced in the two decades before. The continued growth is further evidence of the popularity of the conurbation as a place to live and work for new and existing residents.  The scale of growth in recent decades across Greater Manchester outstrips the population losses of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The scale and characteristics of the growth in Greater Manchester’s population will have implications for services such as health and social care for the elderly, school places and public transport but will also mean that Greater Manchester authorities funding from central government will change in accordance with these population changes. The detailed characteristics of the components of change in the population will be explored in more detail in later briefings.

This first briefing provides an overview of change in the past decade. Much more detail will soon be released and explored on many other topics such as employment, ethnicity, tenure, occupation, travel to work etc.  We will also look more closely at how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on the counts.