During the last two weeks students have been making their way to university in droves for the start of the academic year. In 2013/14, the total number of first-degree undergraduates at higher education institutions, who classed themselves as resident in the UK was 1.3 million.1

Students who 'fly the nest' to start higher education account for a sizeable proportion of the moves made in England and Wales. This article uses interactive population pyramids, showing data for internal migration, to highlight the age groups that are dominating moves in local areas England and Wales. The pyramids are also used in case studies to explore areas with particularly interesting migration age structures.

Internal migration is defined as any move made within the UK that crosses a local authority boundary. Migration figures relate to the year ending in June.

The three local authorities with the biggest inflows and outflows between 2004 to 2014 were Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. These major cities have large populations, with Birmingham having the largest population of any local authority in England and Wales.

42,500 moves were made into Birmingham from other local authorities

Top 5 inflows and outflows of people by local authority, England and Wales, 2014

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A quarter of those moving to Manchester from other local authorities were aged 18 to 20

Manchester has high levels of in and outflows of internal migrants. The population pyramids show that 25% of moves into Manchester were for those aged between 18 and 20, with a peak at 19, the main age that people leave home to study. The Higher Education Statistics Agency data shows The University of Manchester and The Manchester Metropolitan University are ranked 1st and 2nd in the UK for the highest number of undergraduate students enrolled in 2013/14.2

The peak age for outflows of migrants from Manchester local authority is 22 years, this corresponds with the age at which most students leave university. However, at 3,100 people, the peak for outflows of migrants is around two thirds of the peak for inflows, which is 4,900. Outflows are spread over a wider age range than inflows, possibly reflecting some students staying on in Manchester to work/continue with further study.

Age structure of internal migrant population, England and Wales, 2014

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The population pyramids show Oldham, Tameside and Stockport, three of Manchester's neighbouring local authorities, had high outflows of migrants around ages 18 to 20, peaking around age 19. At the same time, inflows for these local authorities peak at around 22. These flows are likely to demonstrate the large number of moves that relate to the start and finish of university studies. These are events that influence the size of the population in many university towns and their neighbouring areas.

Last year 42,500 moves were made into Birmingham this is equivalent to 3.9% of the resident population. City of London has the largest percentage inflow at 11.2%, three other London Boroughs also make it into the top 5 local authorities with the highest percentage inflows. In 2014, 900 people moved into the City of London, the second smallest inflow of all the local authorities. In terms of population City of London is also the second smallest local authority in England and Wales, so any person moving in will have a bigger impact on the inflow as a proportion of residents than other local authorities. For Cambridge, Wandsworth and Lambeth there is evidence of high population ‘turnover’3

Cambridge, Wandsworth and Lambeth show high levels of population ‘turnover’

Local authorities with the highest inflows and outflows as a percentage of the resident population, England and Wales, 2014

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Cornwall gained 4,000 people as a result of net internal migration in 2014

Cornwall gained the most people in 2014 as a result of internal moves. An estimated 21,000 people moved into Cornwall in 2014, 3,800 more than moved out. Wiltshire, Havering, Wealden and East Devon also gained over 2,000 people each as a result of more people moving in from other local authorities than moved out. Of the London boroughs, 27 out of the 33 local authorities experienced a net outflow of people, with the exceptions being Bexley, Bromley, City of London, Havering, Richmond upon Thames and Sutton.

Five local authorities with highest and lowest net internal migration, England and Wales, 2014

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Net internal migration (equal to the sum of inflows minus outflows) and in particular high levels of population ‘turnover’ has an impact on the total population of an area. However, the age structure of those migrating has the biggest impact on local characteristics such as employment and health.

14% of those moving outwards from East Devon were aged 18 to 20 in 2014

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East Devon is another example of a local authority with a high level of net internal migration, 2,000 more people moved in than moved out in 2014. The internal migration flow map4 shows East Devon’s significant inflows coming from Exeter and outflows to Exeter and Mid Devon in 2014. The population pyramids show that 78% of in migrants to East Devon from other local authorities are over the age of 21 and there is a large peak in out migrants at ages 18 to 20.

The age profile of migrants in neighbouring local authority Exeter, is different, 36% of in migrants are aged 18 to 20, with a median age of 22. Migration to East Devon is likely to be for work, family and retirement among other reasons, whereas migration to Exeter is likely to be related to take up of a university place.

36% of people moving into Exeter were aged between 18 and 20 in 2014

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What about England and Wales as a whole?

28% of all moves are made by those aged between 18 and 25 2014

There were an estimated 2.9 million internal migration moves between local authorities in England and Wales in the year ending June 2014. This is the highest number of moves in any year over the decade to 2014 and represents an increase of 141,000 or 5% on the year ending 2013. With 28% of all moves in 2014 made by people aged between 18 and 255, it is likely that a large number of relocations are associated with students starting and finishing higher education.

Overall, females move more than males, with females accounting for 52% of all local authority moves in England and Wales in 2014. At ages 18 to 25, the imbalance is greater with 57% of local authority moves being made by females. This is likely to be driven by more females than males enrolling in higher education and moving away to do so.6 Females accounted for 55% of the total number of first-degree undergraduates at HE institutions, who were resident in the UK in 2013/14.1

Do you want to find out more?

Explore these pyramids to see the age profile of both internal and international migrants in your area.

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For more information, please contact: pop.info@ons.gov.uk


  1. HESA (2015) Table C - HE students at HE provider by level of study, mode of study, domicile and sex 2013/14. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/images/stories/hesa/Pubs_Intro_Graphics/HEUK_1314/heuk_1314_Table_C.xlsx
  2. HESA (2015) HE student enrolments by HE provider, level of study, mode of study and domicile 2013/14. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/dox/pressOffice/sfr210/071277_student_sfr210_1314_table_3.xlsx
  3. Dennett, A and Stillwell, J (2008) Population turnover and churn: enhancing understanding of internal migration in Britain through measures of stability. Population Trends, Winter, 134. as high percentages of the population are moving in and out of these local authorities.
  4. ONS (2015) Where do people move to and from? http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/HTMLDocs/dvc25/
  5. Age of internal migrants is based on age at mid-year rather than age at date of move, this is so the statistics integrate with mid-year population estimates. So, for example, if someone born in May 1995 moved to another local authority to start university in September 2013, their age in the dataset would be 19, even though they were 18 when they actually moved.
  6. ONS (2014) Migration by Local Authorities in England and Wales, Year Ending June 2013 Release: Characteristics of movers. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/internal-migration-by-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/year-ending-june-2013/stb---internal-migration-june-2013.html#tab-Characteristics-of-Movers