The 2021 census in England and Wales asked about sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. What do the first results tell us?
Historically, there has been limited official data about people who are LGBT+ in the UK. The most recent censuses in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland collected data on this topic for the first time.
In England and Wales, 2021 census respondents were asked about their sexual orientation and their gender identity.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the first results, and in this Insight we explore what they tell us about the LGBT+ population.
What were the census questions about sexual orientation and gender identity?
Two new questions were included on the 2021 census in England and Wales with the aim of collecting data on LGBT+ people.
Both questions were optional (unlike most census questions, which are compulsory to answer) and were only asked of respondents aged 16 or over.
Respondents were asked the following questions, with the option to tick one response:
On sexual orientation, respondents were asked:
- Which of the following best describes your sexual orientation?
- Gay or Lesbian
- Other (with the option to write in a response).
This question is about how people identify. This isn’t always the same as who they are attracted to, or who they have had relationships with.
Respondents were also asked:
- Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?
- No (with the option to then write in the term that best described the respondent’s gender identity).
The ONS explains that by gender identity it means “a person’s sense of their own gender, whether male, female, or another category such as non-binary”. The question was included to “provide the first official data on the size of the transgender population in England and Wales”.
This was asked separately from the question about sex, which asked respondents whether they were male or female.
What were the results on sexual orientation?
92.5% of respondents aged 16 or over answered the question on sexual orientation, while the remaining 7.5% chose not to.
89.4% of respondents identified as straight or heterosexual. Around 1.5 million people (3.2%) identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another sexual orientation (LGB+).
1.5% of respondents identified as gay or lesbian (around 748,000) while 1.3% (628,000) identified as bisexual.
A further 0.3% (165,000) people identified with a different sexual orientation. The most common ‘other’ orientations given in the write-in box were: pansexual (112,000 people), asexual (28,000 people), and queer (15,000 people).
What were the results on gender identity?
Around 94.0% of respondents aged 16 or over answered the question on gender identity.
93.5% of respondents said their gender identity and their sex registered at birth were the same. Around 262,000 people (0.5%) said their gender identity and sex registered at birth were different.
Not all of those 262,000 people identified explicitly as transgender. Around 48,000 people (0.1%) gave their identity as ‘trans man’ and another 48,000 (0.1%) gave their identity as ‘trans woman’.
118,000 (0.2%) did not provide a write-in response. A further 30,000 identified as non-binary and 18,000 wrote in a different gender identity.
Which areas have the biggest LGBT+ populations?
The ONS has published data for small geographical areas known as MSOAs, which typically have a population of 7,000 to 10,000 people.
The interactive map below shows the proportion of 16+ year olds in each MSOA who identified in different ways.
Each MSOA is represented by a single hexagon, and grouped by local authority and arranged geographically. Click on a geographical area to zoom in and see detailed MSOA data, and click ‘reset’ to return to the zoomed-out view.
In this map, local authorities with big populations appear bigger than those with small populations. This makes it easier to see trends in densely-populated urban areas.
The table below shows the MSOAs with the highest proportions of people with LGB+ identities, and the parliamentary constituencies that these areas overlap with (some overlap with more than one).
|Small areas (MSOAs) with the highest proportion of people with LGB+ sexual orientations|
|Gay or lesbian||Bisexual|
|1||Kemptown||14%||Brighton, Kemptown||1||Aberystwyth North||10%||Ceredigion|
|2||St James’s Street & Queen’s Park||11%||Brighton, Kemptown||2||Oxford Central||9%||Oxford East / Oxford West & Abingdon|
|3||Piccadilly & Ancoats||11%||Manchester Central||3||Bangor City||9%||Arfon|
|4||New Islington South & Bradford||10%||Manchester Central||4||Fallowfield Central||8%||Manchester, Gorton / Manchester, Withington|
|5||Brunswick||10%||Brighton, Pavillion / Hove||5||Wharf & University||8%||Lincoln|
|Other LGB+ orientations||All LGB+ orientations|
|1||Burgess Park||8%||Bermondsey & Old Southwark / Camberwell & Peckham||1||Kemptown||20%||Brighton, Kemptown|
|2||City Centre West||3%||Norwich South||2||St James’s Street & Queen’s Park||19%||Brighton, Kemptown|
|3||Aberystwyth North||3%||Ceredigion||3||Hanover||17%||Brighton, Pavillion|
|4||Hanover||2%||Brighton, Pavillion||4||Piccadilly & Ancoats||17%||Manchester Central|
|5||Hove Central||2%||Hove||5||Brunswick||17%||Brighton, Pavillion / Hove|
The areas with a high proportion of people with a different gender identity from their sex registered at birth were more widely geographically distributed, as shown in the table below:
|Small areas (MSOAs) with the highest proportion of people with a different gender identity from their sex registered at birth|
|Trans men and trans women||Other named gender identities (different from sex at birth)|
|1||Central Bolton||1.6%||Bolton North East / Bolton South East||1||Aberystwyth North||1.6%||Ceredigion|
|2||City Centre West||1.6%||Norwich South||2||Coleridge||1.3%||Cambridge|
|3||Nechells||1.5%||Birmingham, Ladywood||3||Seven Dials||1.1%||Brighton, Pavillion|
|4||St Raphaels||1.4%||Brent Central||4||Round Hill||1.1%||Brighton, Pavillion|
|5||North Hyde & North Cranford||1.3%||Feltham & Heston||5||Iffley Fields||1.0%||Oxford East|
|Different gender identity from sex at birth, not specified||All with a different gender identity from sex at birth|
|1||Burgess Park||7.6%||Bermondsey & Old Southwark / Camberwell & Peckham||1||Burgess Park||8.1%||Bermondsey & Old Southwark / Camberwell & Peckham|
|2||Crewe Mill Street & College||3.4%||Crewe & Nantwich||2||Harehills South||4.5%||Leeds East|
|3||Normanton North & Peartree||3.1%||Derby North / Derby South||3||Crewe Mill Street & College||4.4%||Crewe & Nantwich|
|4||Normanton South||3.0%||Derby South||4||East Central Oxford||3.8%||Oxford East|
|5||Harehills South||3.0%||Leeds East||5||Lincoln Green & St James||3.7%||Leeds Central / Leeds East|
Does the census data count the whole LGBT+ population?
The LGBT+ population is likely to be larger than the data shows, for several reasons.
LGBT+ people aged under 16 aren’t counted and both questions were voluntary. Some of those who chose not to respond might well identify as LGBT+ in other contexts but didn’t wish to share this on the census.
The ONS provided census forms to households rather than individuals. This means that some people may have had inaccurate sexual orientation or gender identity information recorded for them by someone else in their household. This could affect people who aren’t out to the people they live with.
Everyone did have the option to submit a separate, individual census form that would supersede the information recorded about them on their household form. Not all respondents will have chosen to do this, however.
The census was conducted in March 2021, while Covid-19 restrictions were in place, and this might also have affected the geographical distribution of respondents.
When will more data become available?
The ONS will publish more detailed data on sexual orientation and gender identity in the coming months. It will be possible to see how different sexual orientation and gender identity groups compare on other census variables, such as health, housing, education and employment.
Analysis of sexual orientation by age and sex will be published on 25 January.
When will data be published for the rest of the UK?
The 2021 census in Northern Ireland asked respondents about their sexual orientation, but not their gender identity. Following a public consultation, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) concluded that there is “limited user need for a question on gender identity” in Northern Ireland.
Scotland’s census was delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which means data isn’t available yet.
The 2022 census in Scotland asked about sexual orientation in the same way as the rest of the UK. But the gender identity question was different. It asked, “Do you consider yourself to be trans, or have a trans history?”. It clarified that “Trans is a term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth”.
Because the question was asked differently, Scotland’s data on gender identity won’t be comparable with the rest of the UK.
About the author: Cassie Barton is a statistician at the House of Commons Library, specialising in demography and the census.