Northern Ireland changing society: Census reveals new age, ethnicity and religious figures

Credit: UTV
The latest census results reveal a changing Northern Ireland. Credit: UTV

New census results have been released for Northern Ireland, with the statistics showing, for the first time, that more people are identifying as Catholic than Protestant.

But what else does the 2021 Census show?


Northern Ireland's population has increase by 5.1% since 2021 from 1.8 million to 1.9 million.

Over the decade, the greatest population increase was seen in the older age groups with there being nearly one-third of a million people aged 65 or over in 2021.

All councils showed an ageing population from 2011 to 2021.

The Belfast council area has the highest population, whilst Fermanagh and Omagh had the smallest population.

The highest growing population rate was seen in the Lisburn and Castlereaagh council area.

Ethnic group

The 2021 census showed 3.4% of the population belonged to an ethnic minority group.

This is around double the figure seen in 2011, and four times the figure seen in 2001.

Country of birth

The number of people living in Northern Ireland who were born outside the United Kingdom and Ireland has grown from 81,500 people in 2011 to 124,300 people in 2021.

The 2021 figure is the highest ever recorded in Northern Ireland.

Passports held

In 2021, 78% of people in Northern Ireland held a single passport, with 6.1% of people holding more than one passport. 15.9% of people did not hold a passport.

There has been a decrease in the number holding British passports with 1 million people having one as opposed to 1.07 million in 2011.

Meanwhile, there has been a 63.5% increase in the number of people holding an Irish passport.

This is consistent with the increasing demand for Ireland passports since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

Main language other than English

On census day, 4.6% of people aged 3 or over had a main language other than English, with English not being the main language for 3.1% of the population.

The most prevalent main languages were recorded as being Polish (20,100 people), Lithuanian (9,000), Irish (6,000), Romanian (5,600) and Portuguese (5,000).

The statistics released today show an increasingly diverse population across ethnic group, main language, country of birth and passports held.

This increasing diversity is evident to a greater or lesser degree across all 11 local councils.

Irish and Ulster-Scots language ability

The Census also shows that 12.4% of the population, over the age of 3, had some form of Irish language ability - up from 10.7% in 2011..

Meanwhile, 10.4% had some ability in Ulster Scots, compared to 8.1% in 2011.


In 2021, the main current religions were: Catholic (42.3%); Presbyterian (16.6 %); Church of Ireland (11.5%); Methodist (2.3%); Other Christian denominations (6.9%); and Other Religions (1.3%).

In addition 17.4% of our population had ‘No religion’ – this is a marked increase on 2011 when 10.1% had ‘No religion’. This points to the increased secularisation of our population.

Combining current religion and religion of upbringing gives 45.7% of our population who were ‘Catholic’, 43.5% who were ‘Protestant, Other Christian or Christian related’ and 1.5% who were from other non-Christian religions.

The remaining 9.3% of our population, or 177,400 people in Census 2021 neither belonged to nor were brought up in any religion.

This group has increased in size from 2011 when 5.6 % or 101,200 people were recorded in this way.

National identity (nationality based)

People could select more than one national identity, with 42.8% identifying with a British identity - this is down from 48.4% in 2011.

Meanwhile, 33.3% identified as Irish - up from 28.4% in 2011; whilst 31.5% identified as Northern Irish, up from 29.4% of people.

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