Protected characteristics like age, sex and disability can all affect people's lives in different ways. Using the England and Wales Census 2021, we have explored how life outcomes vary across these characteristics.

We have looked at different people's housing, health, education, and employment, and how they can help us understand equality in society.

Keep on reading and test your knowledge to get a better understanding of what life looked like in Census 2021 for different groups.

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How did housing compare across different groups?

In 2021, one-third (33%) of households owned the accommodation they lived in outright. This is an increase from 31% in 2011.

The census tells us if people lived in a home that is owned outright, owned with a mortgage or loan, or if they lived in a rented home. If rented, the census tells us if that was social rented housing (such as from a council or housing association), rented privately, or if they were living rent free (for example, in a home owned by a family member or friend).

More recently, because of the increase in the cost of living and rising inflation rates, the cost of both renting and buying homes has increased. Recent data from our Opinions and Lifestyle Survey showed that 4 in 10 (40%) of adults aged 16 and over in Great Britain reported it was very or somewhat difficult to afford rent or mortgage payments (12 to 23 July 2023).

Data in this article looks at percentages of people, rather than the percentage of households living in rented or owned properties as published in our Housing topic summary for Census 2021.

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Additional Census 2021 data showed that most people in their early 20s were living with their parents by the time of Census 2021 as children are staying in the family home later in life. Across England and Wales, the share of 20- to 24-year-olds living with their parents rose from 44% to just over half (51%).

If we focus on more affordable housing for people on lower incomes, 17% of households in England and Wales were in the social rented sector. This is a slightly smaller proportion than in 2011 (18%).

There are notable differences between family structures. Housing analysis published in May 2023 showed that at the time of Census 2021, single family lone-parent households were most likely to be in the social rented sector (38% in England and 36% in Wales), when compared with other family structures.

Disability status also affects how likely you are to live in social rented housing. Around 28% of disabled people lived in socially rented housing, compared with 14% of non-disabled people.

There was also a large disparity across religious groups in the percentage of people in households in the social rented sector. Over one-quarter (27%) of people who identified as Muslim reported living in social rented housing, higher than any other religion.

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How have ratings of general health changed since 2011?

For health, disability, and unpaid care, unless stated otherwise, analysis in this article did not use age-standardised proportions. We simply stated the percentage of people within a group of a particular health or disability status, without adjusting for the age structure of that group. Age standardised proportions are used to allow us to compare changes in health, disability and unpaid care that are not related to changes in the age-structure of the population between 2011 and 2021. For further information on age-standardised percentages, see our blog post.  Age standardising data: What does this mean and why does it matter?

In 2021, across England and Wales, there was an increase in the age-standardised proportion of people reporting very good health and a decrease in the age-standardised proportion of people reporting very bad health, compared with the 2011 Census (45.0% in 2011, to 47.5% for very good health in 2021 and 1.4% in 2011, to 1.2% for very bad health in 2021).

Census 2021 was conducted during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This may have influenced how people perceive and rate their health and therefore may have affected how people chose to respond.

As expected, health is closely related to age, and reporting of good health declines as people get older.

Until the age of 80 years, people were more likely to rate their health as either good or very good. From the age of 80, there was a higher likelihood of people rating their health as fair than any other category.

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Previous Census 2021 analysis has also been published on how health compares among religious groups and ethnic groups.

How did disability status compare across different groups?

In 2021, across both England and Wales, the age-standardised proportion of disabled people was 17.8%, and has decreased 1.7 percentage points from 2011, when it was 19.5%.

Similar to health, disability increased with age. A greater proportion of people in older age groups were disabled when compared to younger age groups (65% of people aged over 90 years compared to 13% of people aged 20 to 29 years).

For every age group above 16 years, females were more likely to be disabled than males. The biggest difference was seen in adults aged 90 years and over (67% of females compared with 60% of males).  

Which groups provided unpaid care?

In England and Wales, the age-standardised proportion of usual residents aged five years and over, who provided any amount of unpaid care, decreased from 11% in 2011 to 9% in 2021. In Census 2021, people were asked whether they provided any informal (unpaid) care to family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long-term physical or mental health conditions or illnesses, or problems related to old age.

People who are disabled and who have poorer health typically also provided more unpaid care. 

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Data from the 2011 Census found that, for both males and females, those who provided unpaid care were more likely to have reported their general health as ‘not good’ (bad and very bad health), compared with those who provided no unpaid care. Census 2021 similarly found that around half of people (48%) who provided no unpaid care reported having very good health, compared with only one-quarter (22%) of people who provided 50 hours or more of unpaid care a week.

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At what age did people have the highest levels of qualification?

In 2021, around one-third (34%) of the population had the highest level of qualifications, "Level 4 or above" (Higher National Certificate, Higher National Diploma, Bachelor's degree, or post-graduate qualifications). Higher education qualifications refer to qualifications that are Level 4 or above.

People aged 30 to 39 years were the most likely group (47%) to hold a higher education qualification.

Almost half of people in their 30s held a higher education qualification

Age, by highest level of qualification, England and Wales, 2021

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Source: Census 2021 from the Office for National Statistics


  1. Totals may not add to 100% as percentages have been calculated out of the overall population for each age group for people aged 16 years and over, using rounded data.

Looking at both age and sex together, there were variations between the younger and older age groups and the level of qualification gained.

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This trend shifts, however, when we look at older adults aged 60 years and above. A greater proportion of males in the older age groups had a higher education qualification than females. The biggest difference was seen in adults aged 90 years and over (21% of males compared with 11% of females).

People who identified as "Hindu" had the highest percentage (55%) with a higher education qualification. In contrast, people who identified as “Christian” had the lowest percentage (32%), when compared with the overall population (34%).

The cost of living is also affecting people in the education system. More than three-quarters (78%) of higher education students are concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies and more than one-third (35%) of students reported they are now less likely to do further study after their course has completed.

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Which groups had higher employment?

In Census 2021, we asked everyone aged 16 years and over to answer questions on their labour market status. The questions asked whether a person was working or looking for work in the week before Census 2021. These figures were likely to have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Adults aged 40 to 49 years were the most likely to be in employment (81%), slightly more than people in their 30s (80%).

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There were also notable differences in employment for disabled and non-disabled people (27% compared with 65%).

Previous Census 2021 analysis has also been published on employment outcomes across religious groups and ethnic groups.

Does the type of job we do vary by age?

The types of job we do depends on how old we are.

Older adults were most likely to be working as “Managers, Directors or Senior Officials”. For these types of roles, a generally older age profile is to be expected as they typically require more workplace experience.

Younger adults were most likely to be in more customer-facing occupations. Many will likely be in full-time education, and looking for work alongside their studies, or have only recently left full-time education, and looking for flexible “stop gaps”. As such, younger people (aged 16 to 19 years) were more likely to work in “sales and customer service” and “elementary” occupations (25% and 30%) than other age groups.

But there were also differences between sexes.

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View all data used in this article