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Britain’s lesbian, gay and bi population is up but the stats show some surprises

Britain’s lesbian, gay and bi population is up but the stats show some surprises

  • Differences between men and women and why one part of the UK has a falling LGB population.
Birmingham Pride crowd.

Britain’s LGB population is rising and the number of people saying they are straight is falling.

That’s according to new figures out today from the Office of National Statistics.

But the picture shows wide variations between ages and genders. And while most parts of the UK are seeing more people identify as LGB, the number has fallen in Northern Ireland.

The latest figures show the situation in 2018.

The big headline statistic is the number of people aged over 16 identifying as straight has fallen from 95.3% in 2014 to 94.6% in 2018.

Meanwhile the number identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual went up from 1.6% in 2014 to 2.2% in 2018. That means there were an estimated 1.2 million people aged 16 or over in the UK in 2018.

In reality, many LGBT+ experts have long believed the Office of National Statistics underestimates the real LGB population. That’s for a variety of reasons, including people being unwilling to reveal their sexuality in an official capacity.

Men, women and bisexuality

The official statistics only provide the differences between two genders – male and female.

But they show interesting variations. 

According to the Office of National Statistics, men (2.5%) are more likely to identify as LGB than women (2.0%).

And there’s another difference between the two sexes.

The stats show women are more likely to be bisexual whereas men are more likely to be gay.

Plus there may be a reason why we are very slowly starting to see more bisexual visibility in our community.

The number who say they are gay or lesbian has risen but only from 1.1% to 1.4% in the four years to 2018.

However, the number who say they are bisexual has almost doubled. In 2014 they made up 0.5% of the population. Whereas in 2018 they are 0.9% of UK people aged over 16.

A question of age

The official statistics also show we can expect to see an increasing number of people identify as LGB in coming years.

In 2018, the statistics show 4.4% of 16 to 24-year-olds are LGB. That’s double the 2.2% of the total population who identify as gay or bi.

Meanwhile people aged 64 or over are far less likely to say they are lesbian, gay or bi. And 50 to 64-year-olds are slightly less likely to identify as LGB.

It remains to be seen if younger people will change those stats as they get older. Or it may be that something about getting older will make some people go back in the closet.

Rises everywhere except Northern Ireland

The statistics also point out regional differences in where the LGB population lives.

The number of LGB people went up in England, Scotland, Wales and the UK overall.

However, it dipped in Northern Ireland between 2014 and 2018.

There may be a number of reasons for this. Firstly the Office of National Statistics bases its number on far fewer people in Northern Ireland than in other regions. And it’s worth noting the dip, while large is within the margin of error for the statistics to simply be wrong.

However, Northern Ireland has also faced a tough few years for its LGBT+ population.

For example, the rest of the UK secured marriage equality in 2014 and that may have encouraged people to come out. Whereas Northern Ireland didn’t win same-sex marriage until this year, after a long, hard battle.

Meanwhile, among English regions, people in London were most likely to identify as LGB (2.8%), with people in the North East the least likely (1.8%).

But interestingly, this may be partly because of age differences. The average age in London is 35.3 years old in 2018, compared with 41.8 years in the North East of England. And we already know younger people are more likely to be openly LGB.

Equally, some regions seem to be growing their LGBT populations rapidly.

The East Midlands saw their LGB population rise from 1.2% in 2014 to 2.2% in 2018. And the neighboring West Midlands saw it shoot up from 1.3% to 2.3% in the same period.

But overall there were rises in all English regions with the smallest rise in London, despite the UK capital having the biggest overall LGB population.

Still single

Finally, the stats show that more than two-thirds (68.7%) of people who identify as LGB were officially single in 2018. That means they may be in a relationship but have never married or had a civil partnership.

Commenting on today’s figures, Sophie Sanders of the Office of National Statistics, said:

‘People in their late teens and early 20s are more likely to identify as LGB than older age groups.

‘Meanwhile, more than two thirds of the LGB population are single and have never married or entered into a civil partnership.

‘This reflects the younger age structure of this population, the changing attitudes of the general population to marriage and the fact that legal unions have only been recently available for same-sex couples.’