Census finding: Muslim population – young and diverse

27th Sep 2013


Dr Sundas Ali

The recently released data from the 2011 Census of England and Wales indicates  the population of Muslims has increased 1.1 million over the last ten years. It stands at 2.7 million (1.6 million in 2001). Muslims constitute 4.8 per cent of the total population, an increase from 2.7 per cent in 2001.

While a significant proportion are of Asian origin (68%), it is truly a multi-ethnic community: Black, 10% (a category that includes those of African and Caribbean origin); White, 8%; Arab, 6%; Mixed, 4% other, 4%.

Also of all religious groups in England and Wales, Muslims have the youngest age profile. Almost one third is below 15 years of age and 17 per cent are aged 16-24 years. The age demographics indicate that 290,000 Muslims are in the 9-14 age band, so young Muslims are a strategic asset for the country given the ageing population.

It is the first time the Census has had a count for the Arab ethnic category – 241,000 in England and Wales. There have been significant increases in the Muslim populations of Birmingham (plus 93,400), Bradford (plus 53,800) and Manchester (plus 43,700) in the last ten years. Interestingly, the Muslim population of Tower Hamlets, traditionally an area of high Muslim concentration, has increased to a much lesser extent, relatively speaking. This could be because of movement out of the borough though further research is required on social mobility within the community. Factors contributing to the increased Muslim population include the young age profile so there are child-rearing families, more children per family (though other studies show a dropping fertility), new settlements from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a better response to the census from previously hard-to-reach communities.

Excluding Christians, Muslims comprise 58% of the population of the minority faiths. So there are more Muslims than all the other non-Christian communities put together. Comparison with the 2001 Census indicates that the populations of all minority faiths have increased – for example the Hindu and Buddhist communities rose by 48% and 70% respectively.

London has the largest of Britain’s total Muslim population (almost 40 per cent). Figure 1 shows the Muslim distribution in London; the darker green areas represent a higher density of Muslims. It is clear that parts of East London, North London, and West London have higher numbers of Muslims.

The high number of Muslims in a number of parliamentary constituencies suggests that the Muslim vote will be important for the next general election in 2015, but this depends on prior voter registration and turnout on the day. The 2011 census data shows that there are a significant number of Muslims living in some of the 80 most marginal UK constituencies. As an example, in the parliamentary constituency Birmingham Edgbaston (where the MP’s marginal victory was 50), there are 6,765 Muslims living there. The top ten Local Authority Districts and top twenty Parliamentary Constituencies with the most Muslims (in numbers and percentages) are shown in Tables 1 and 2. The local authority district of Tower Hamlets tops the table with a Muslim population of 34.5 percent and the parliamentary constituency Birmingham, Hodge Hill has 52.1 percent of Muslims. Data on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (from the Public Health Observatories) reveals that 49% of the Muslim population (1,290,785) are living in the 10% most deprived Local Authority Districts in England.

The Muslim Council of Britain was at the forefront of the campaign to introduce the religion question in the 2001 Census because previously Muslims in Britain were invisible in official statistics. The Census has given Muslims recognition, when previously we were subsumed within ethnic categorisations. Census data on Muslims has had an impact, for example in policy making, ensuring diversity of employment in the public sector and tackling pockets of deprivation and health inequality. The MCB has launched a 2011 Census data analysis project and will be publishing further findings. However, it is a matter of concern that the Coalition Government is proposing to replace the traditional decennial census with some smaller scale surveys. This will mean that after 2021 there may no longer be reliable statistics about the minority ethnic and faith groups.  The MCB  urges Muslim News readers to contact their MPs to lobby for the continuation of the traditional Census as conducted by the Office for National Statistics.

Dr Sundas Ali, Policy Analyst Intern, MCB Census Project


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