Southwark Demographics

Census and demographics

In this section

Introduction to the 2021 Census

The census is a survey taken of all usual residents of England and Wales every 10 years. The census is planned and run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The census asks questions about individuals and households to provide a snapshot of society that can be used by national and local governments in the planning of services.

Local authorities such as Southwark Council can use this data in many ways, to help develop policies, plan and run local services and allocate public funds to where they are most needed.

The most recent census was conducted on Sunday 21 March 2021 and collected data on many themes including:

  • Population
  • Demography and Migration
  • Ethnicity, Identity, Language and Religion
  • Health and Disability
  • Housing
  • Work and Travel
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
  • Education
  • UK Armed Forces Veterans

The results of the Census 2021 have been used to form a suite of profiles for Southwark.

The Census 2021 was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have impacted the results in many ways, particularly regarding living and housing arrangements.

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Census population data shows the number of people living in different areas at the time of the Census 2021. This includes a breakdown of the age structure of all the local authorities, regions and countries of the UK.

On Census Day 2021, the usual resident population of Southwark was 307,600. This compares to 288,300 at the time of the Census 2011. The total population of London and England also increased over those 10 years, with Southwark’s rate of population growth over the decade similar to that seen across London and England.  

The age structure of Southwark has also changed during this time, with children aged 5 and under making up a smaller percentage of the total population, and adults aged 55 to 70 making up a greater percentage of the population.

Southwark JSNA resources

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Demography and migration

The data released on demography and migration provides a more detailed view of the population age structure; households within the borough; legal partnership status of residents; residents’ country of birth and migration flows.

Population data revealed that Southwark has a relatively young population, with an average age of 32.4, which is more than two years younger than the London average, and seven years younger than the England average.

The Census 2021 also recorded information on households: each house plus its residents. At the time of the Census 2021, there were over 130,000 households in Southwark, an increase of 10,000 since 2011. The average number of people per household was 2.3.

Around one quarter of all households in Southwark included at least one dependent child, with one tenth of all households being lone-parent households with dependent children.

Country of birth data showed that 40% of Southwark residents were born outside of the UK and Ireland. In 2021, the top country of birth outside the UK and Ireland was Nigeria. Residents born in Italy, Jamaica, Spain and Ghana also made up a notable proportion of Southwark’s population.

Southwark JSNA resources

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Ethnicity, identity, language and religion 

The Census 2021 asked respondents to record their ethnicity, national identity, language and religion. This was the first census that allowed respondents to write in their specific ethnic group. In total, 282 different ethnicities were recorded by Southwark residents.

In Southwark, just over half the population recorded their ethnicity under the broad category ‘White’. The next most common broad ethnic group in the borough was ‘Black, Black British, Caribbean or African’, representing one-quarter of Southwark residents.

The national identity question allowed respondents to express where they feel they belong, irrespective of ethnic group, citizenship, or country of birth. In Southwark, the majority of residents reported their national identity as English, British, or both. The most commonly reported non-UK identity was Spanish (including Canary Islander).

Within Southwark, the majority of residents reported their main language to be English. Other than English, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language as a main language, spoken by around 13,000 people in Southwark. Around 10,000 residents in the borough report not being able to speak English well, or speak English at all.

Since 2011, there has been a substantial increase in the number of residents reporting having ‘No religion’, and a decrease in residents reporting a Christian religion.

Southwark JSNA resources

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The Census 2021 collected information about households, types of accommodation, tenure, occupancy, heating and car or van availability.

A household can be defined as all those living at the same address, whether this is one or more people. At the time of the Census 2021, there were over 130,000 households within the borough of Southwark.

Within the borough, 40% of homes are socially rented from the council or housing associations. Southwark ranks highest out of all local authorities in England for the proportion of households that are rented from the council.

Around 1 in 10 households in Southwark in 2021 were overcrowded, equivalent to around 16,000 homes.

Southwark JSNA resources

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Gender identity and sexual orientation

The Census 2021 was the first to introduce questions about gender identity and sexual orientation. Respondents aged 16 and over were asked voluntary questions on whether the gender they identify with is the same as their registered sex at birth, and how they would describe their sexual orientation. 

In Southwark, around 1 in 80 (1.2%) residents had a gender identity different from their sex registered at birth, equivalent to 3,200 people. Southwark ranked as the 5th highest local authority in England for the proportion of residents with a trans or non-binary gender identity.

More than 1 in 12 (8.1%) of residents in Southwark had a non-heterosexual identity, equivalent to 20,700 people. Around 1 in 20 (4.5%) identified as lesbian or gay, and 1 in 30 (3.2%) identified as bisexual or pansexual. Southwark ranked 4th highest in England for the proportion of residents with LGB+ sexual orientation.

Census results for trans/non-binary and LGB+ identified people are likely to be under-estimates, with previous evidence showing survey respondents are reluctant to disclose these identities due to ongoing stigma.

Southwark JSNA resources

Census 2021 Profile: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation (PDF, 1.1mb)

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Health, disability and unpaid care

The Census 2021 asked residents of England and Wales about their general health, disability status and any unpaid care they provided.

Respondents were asked to rate their general health on a scale of very good, good, fair, bad or very bad. In Southwark, the majority of residents (86%) reported their health as good or very good, a similar proportion to residents across London and England. Over 12,000 residents reported their health as being bad or very bad.

At the time of the census, 42,000 Southwark residents were disabled, and 1 in 4 households had at least one person with a disability. Of those who were disabled, 41% said their daily activities were limited by a lot.

The proportion of Southwark residents providing some level of unpaid care in 2021 was similar to 2011. However, the hours of care provided by unpaid carers in Southwark have increased since the 2011 Census, with nearly 5,000 residents providing 50 or more hours of unpaid care in 2021.

Southwark JSNA resources

Census 2021 Profile: Health, Disability and Unpaid Care (PDF, 901kb)

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Labour market and travel to work

The Census 2021 asked residents aged 16+ about their economic activity: whether or not they were working or looking for work in the week leading up to the Census.

At the time of the Census, 180,000 residents of Southwark aged 16+ were economically active (including those on furlough). This was equivalent to 71% of the population aged 16+. The majority of the population who were economically inactive were either retired or students.

Of those who were employed, 60% worked in industries related to finance, administration, education or health. The most common industry of employment was human health and social work, in which over 24,000 residents were employed.

The 2021 Census also recorded the occupations people held within their industries. At the time, 31% of Southwark residents worked in professional occupations, which included roles such as teaching, IT professionals, nursing and midwifery, among others.

As the Census was taken during the national lockdown, nearly 50% of working residents were working at or from home. For those travelling to work, the most common method of travel was by bus.

The 2021 Census took place during the COVID-19 pandemic when national lockdown measures and associated restrictions, as well as the furlough scheme, were in place. These will have affected data across the labour market and travel-to-work topics

Southwark JSNA resources

Census 2021 Profile: Labour Market and Travel to Work (PDF, 770kb)

External resources

Page last updated: 02 November 2023

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