Young people in England and Wales twice as likely to identify as LGB+

<span>Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA</span>
Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

Young people’s openness with sexuality has been revealed in unprecedented census data showing people aged 16 to 24 are more than twice as likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or another minority sexual orientation (LGB+) than the overall population.

In Brighton and Hove, one of Britain’s longtime gay capitals, just under one in six 16- to 24-year-olds identify with a sexual identity other than straight – more than twice the England and Wales average of 6.9% for that age group.

The figures come from the 2021 census exploring the age profile of England and Wales’ 1.5 million LGB+ people.


Almost one in 10 women in the 16-to-24 age group identified as LGB+ compared with 2% among female 45- to 54-year-olds.

The census, taken on 21 March 2021, was the first time government statisticians have asked all people aged over 16 about their sexual and gender identity.

They found that more than half of LGB+ people were aged between 16 and 34 – despite this group accounting for less than a third of the overall population. Overall, more women than men were LGB+ – 830,000 to 706,000 – a gap greater than can be explained by the overall population containing 1.5 million more women.

The places with the most diverse sexual orientation among the youngest group tended to have two or more universities. They include Ceredigion in Wales, Norwich, Cambridge and Lincoln.

Across England and Wales, the youngest women were three times more likely to identify as bisexual than gay or lesbian and across all age groups 71% of bisexuals were female.


As the population ages, bisexuality rates fall quickly and in all older age groups people are more likely to have identified as gay or lesbian.

The sharp drop-off in people in older age groups identifying as a minority sexual orientation is likely to raise questions about entrenched homophobic attitudes.

The proportion of people who identified as LGB+ was highest (6.9%) among people aged 16 to 25 and then decreased with each successive age group to 0.4% in people aged 75 and over.

“It’s because people are afraid to come out and afraid to say they are LGBTQ+,” said a spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. “People over 70 came of age when homosexuality was criminalised and there was a fear of jail. You can expect this group to be afraid.”

The peak age for men to identify with a minority sexual orientation was slightly older than for women, at between 25 and 34, when 5.1% said they were LGB+.

There was also a difference in the proportion of men identifying as LGB+ in England and Wales, with only 2.7% identifying as such in Wales and 3% in England. The island of Anglesey, off the north Wales coast, recorded 485 LGB+ men – at 1.8% the lowest of anywhere in Wales.

The straightest group, when splitting by age and gender, were women aged 55 to 64, 92% of whom identified as heterosexual. Across both sexes, the proportion of people who ticked the “heterosexual” box fell in the 65-and-over age groups.

Separate figures on gender identity found that younger people are far more likely to identify as transgender, with 1% of people aged 16 to 24 saying that their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth. That compares with 0.5% of the overall population.


The figures also highlighted differing views of sex and gender among the transgender population. Around one in three people who identified as a trans man or a trans woman said their sex was different from that of their gender identity, while about two-thirds answered with the same sex they had put down for their gender identity.

Stonewall said the data should be “a wake-up call for leaders in all walks of life”.

“The rainbow generations are your future,” it said. “Soon these generations will be the biggest section of our workforce, the people who will be consuming our media, the talent pipeline for our sports, the audience for our cultural output, the people we want to nurture as our future voters.

“For gen Z and millennials, there are simply more LGBTQ+ people in these generations and we will be a bigger part of every constituency, workplace, sport club or faith community than under previous generations.”

The charity urged the government to tailor services better to these groups, for example by working against homophobic discrimination in care settings.