Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg
Today we published the first data from Census 2021 about the Welsh language.
On Census Day, 21 March 2021, an estimated 538,300 usual residents in Wales aged three years or older reported being able to speak Welsh. This is 17.8% of the population. This represents a decrease of around 23,700 people since Census 2011, or a decrease of 1.2 percentage points.
The number of people reported as being able to speak Welsh has now been decreasing since 2001.
Source: Census of population, 1921 to 2021
Note: The census did not take place in 1941 due to the Second World War.
What’s behind this most recent decrease?
The decrease since 2011 is mainly driven by the declining percentage of children and young people reported as being able to speak Welsh. In both 2011 and 2021, children and young people aged 5 to 15 years old were more likely to be reported as being able to speak Welsh than any other age group. However, the percentage of 5 to 15 year olds reported as being able to speak Welsh decreased between 2011 and 2021, from 40.3% in 2011 to 34.3% in 2021, a 6.0 percentage point decrease. This was the largest percentage point decrease of any age group. There was a similar decrease for three to four year olds, decreasing from 23.3% in 2011 to 18.2% in 2021, a 5.2 percentage point decrease.
Lower percentages of children and young people, and older people, are now able to speak Welsh compared with 2011.
Source: Census of population, 2011 and 2021
Although the percentage of children and young people aged 3 to 15 years reported as being able to speak Welsh decreased across all local authorities between 2011 and 2021, the decreases appeared most stark in areas with lower concentrations of Welsh speakers, such as in Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Torfaen.
However, despite decreases in Welsh-speaking ability among children and young people, there were some areas of Wales which saw increases in the total percentage of people able to speak Welsh. These are concentrated in south-east Wales.
The percentage of people able to speak Welsh decreased in all local authorities between 2011 and 2021, other than in some local authorities in south-east Wales.
Source: Census of population, 2011 and 2021
Were these changes expected?
The census provides us with a snapshot of life in Wales at a particular point in time, once every 10 years. Census 2021 was held during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, on 21 March 2021. This followed periods of lockdown, remote learning for children, and many people were working from home. It is not known how the pandemic impacted people’s reported Welsh language ability, or their perception of the Welsh language ability of others, such as their children.
The percentage of children and young people aged 5 to 15 years reported as being able to speak Welsh in the census is typically higher than the percentage of children and young people being taught Welsh as a first language. What we do know from education data is that around half of the children being taught Welsh as a first language do not speak Welsh at home.
We also know that children and young people who are able to speak Welsh are substantially less likely to do so with their friends outside school than at school. It’s possible that the pandemic may have affected the Welsh language ability of children and young people, and/or affected the perception of parents or guardians reporting Welsh language ability on their behalf. We can’t know at this stage if this might be a short-term or longer-term impact.
We also know that the population of Wales has changed somewhat since 2011. Between Census 2011 and Census 2021, the population of Wales is estimated to have increased by 1.4%. This is due to more people moving into Wales than leaving Wales. There were more people who were born outside Wales living here in 2021 than in 2011. We know from previous censuses that people born outside Wales are much less likely to report being able to speak Welsh than people born in Wales.
There were also fewer births than deaths in Wales during this period. This meant that there were fewer people aged under 15 years in 2021 than in 2011, and an increasingly larger proportion of the population aged 65 years or older. Census 2021 and recent censuses tell us that children and young people aged 5 to 15 years old are more likely to be able to speak Welsh than any other age group.
What do other data sources tell us about Welsh language ability?
We consider the census to be the key source of information about the Welsh language ability of people in Wales. The Welsh Government uses the census to measure progress towards its target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. The census is also used to measure progress on the national well-being indicator and milestone on the number of Welsh speakers.
Other data sources are available that are useful to monitor trends in Welsh language ability between censuses. A previous Chief Statistician’s update has discussed this in more detail, including how we should not compare estimates from other surveys directly with the census, as we know there are differences in how some of these surveys are conducted, for example.
Estimates from other household surveys are typically higher than estimates from the census. While today’s census estimates that around 538,300 people reported they were able to speak Welsh, the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey, estimated that around 884,000 people aged three years or older were able to speak Welsh in April 2020 to March 2021, or 29.2% of the population. The National Survey for Wales, on the other hand, estimated that 18% of adults aged 16 years or older were able to speak Welsh in April 2020 to March 2021, with an additional 15% saying that they had some Welsh-speaking ability.
We have looked at the differences between sources in more detail in a previous statistical bulletin, including some possible reasons for these.
Irrespective of the source used, a person’s assessment of how well they speak a language can be subjective. For some people, the ability to say a few words in Welsh is enough for them to say they speak it. For others, despite speaking it regularly, they may say that they can’t speak it if they feel more comfortable speaking another language.
It’s clear from the National Survey for Wales that there is a growing number of people who can speak some Welsh. People with some Welsh-speaking ability might find it particularly challenging to answer a binary yes/no question on whether they can speak the language. Given the way different sets of survey and census statistics are collected, this is one factor that will contribute to different estimates in different data sources.
So, what’s next?
Today’s publication is the first set of data from Census 2021 about the Welsh language. Next year, further information about the Welsh language will be published. This includes information about the intergenerational transmission of the language within households, as well as how Welsh-speaking ability varies by different population groups, for example, by ethnicity.
What is clear from today’s publication is that there are differences between the census and what other data sources tell us about Welsh language ability. Some of these differences have been longstanding. It is not fully known either how the pandemic may have affected data about Welsh language ability.
Looking ahead, we will work with the Office for National Statistics alongside their current transformation programme to improve our understanding of why the census and the Annual Population Survey estimates differ so much. The Annual Population survey is currently being redesigned to become an “online first” survey, with improvements also being made to survey content and processes. We will work with the Office for National Statistics to understand the impact of this on Welsh language statistics.
We will also explore how the census differs to our National Survey for Wales and schools data, through exploring innovative data linking research projects. This work will contribute to our understanding of how people report their own Welsh language ability, and the Welsh language ability of others, in a variety of contexts.