Retaining young people within our area is a major issue, as the population estimates for Conwy County Borough show a big gap in the age structure between the ages of around 18 to 45, and a smaller, though still noticeable gap, in Denbighshire. This is the age group which is mostly likely to be economically and socially mobile, seeking work, education and other social opportunities outside the area. Many young people have to leave the area for higher education and though this in itself is not an issue the failure to attract them back to the area after graduation leads to a generational imbalance.
There are a variety of possible reasons for this trend, but consultation conducted with Bangor University students identified the lack of local employment opportunities as one of the key issues. Lack of suitable and affordable housing can also be a major push-factor. When deciding where to settle, young people are usually looking for more than just a job; they want to live in a place that also matches their lifestyle, whether that is about access to cultural opportunities (nightlife or outdoor pursuits for example), or about services and support that are in place to help them to start and raise a family.
Population pyramids, produced from mid-year population estimates from the Office for National Statistics, show the age structure gaps in population aged between 18 and 45 years. From looking at these pyramids, we can see that our population is very obviously not the traditional pyramid shape, which would show lots of children and young people at the ‘base’ supporting a narrower ‘peak’ of elderly people. Our population is very top-heavy with older age groups, particularly those aged 55+. Though other demographic drivers have all had an impact on this population imbalance (improved life expectancy, reduced fertility and the effects of the large post war baby boom cohort moving into older age groups), out-migration of young people is also a key influence, and one which has impacts on the economic well-being of the area as well as on its social and cultural make-up.
Retaining an age-balanced population has benefits for the whole of society. The interchange of shared information, knowledge, and culture between generations helps form a vibrant, innovative and integrated resilient community – both ‘moving with the times’ and ‘passing on wisdom’ are essential in building social resilience. Community support and caring roles are also fostered through intergenerational integration, not just within families but with neighbours, friends and through volunteering. This can be a two-way process, with older residents helping with child care and development as well as younger people providing formal and informal care for older residents. (see ‘living in isolation and access to services‘ for further information).
For employers and the economy in general, recruiting, retaining and developing young people within the workforce helps tackle issues such as an ageing workforce, skills gaps and shortages, talent development, succession planning and customer insight into emerging markets and trends (see ‘prosperous well-being‘ for further information).
This age group has become increasingly mobile in recent years so the size and impact of their out-migration has grown. In the past 10 years, average net migration in the 15-29 age group:
has been about -300 a year in Conwy County Borough. About 1,850 people in the 15-29 age groups leave the area each year, and only about 1,550 move in
has been about -200 a year in Denbighshire. About 1,650 people in the 15-29 age groups leave the areas each year, and only about 1,450 move in.
At the same time there is a bulge in in-migration in the pre-retirement age groups (aged 50 to 64), which creates a further imbalance in the population structure. In the last 10 years, net migration in that age group has been an average annual gain of 350 persons in Conwy County Borough and 200 in Denbighshire. There is also net migration gain in the 65-74 age group.
Though out-migration of young people is a particular issue for Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire, the shift towards a top-heavy population pyramid is not just a local problem. The proportions of young adults in the population has been in decline across most of the developed world for the last couple of decades. International in-migration – which largely occurs in younger, economically active age groups – had provided some slight mitigation for the area in the recent past, but this too has been falling in the last few years. Reductions in international economic migration is perhaps a result of Brexit, but is certainly an indication of the overall reduction in the numbers of young adults in the developed world.
The push/pull factors that affect out-migration of young people have intensified too, with a reduction in the availability of affordable housing (for both market and social housing), and continuing concentration of employment and higher education opportunities in large metropolitan areas.
 Internal and international migration flows data, Office for National Statistics, (June 2020 release)
Net out-migration of young adults has a knock-on effect on the whole population structure. As well as being the basis of the working age population that drives our economy, they are also the people who will become parents. Fewer babies being born because of an ‘absent’ parental cohort means even fewer young adults in the next generation, which then becomes a compound effect on the age imbalance in the population.
If past trends continue, it is predicted that by 2039 those aged 65 and over will make up 33% of the population, whereas those aged under 25 will make up only 23% (currently those aged 65+ make up 23% of the population, and those aged under 25 = 27%).
Though it is currently too soon to know what the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic may be, we can speculate that there may be changes in some of the societal structures and behaviours that affect this issue. These include:
possible changes in the way higher education is delivered may influence where young people live
changes in employment opportunities and practices may mean some jobs no longer need to be based in cities (though employment may not be the only pull factor)
the impact on housing costs if home-working opportunities encourage relocation from outside the area (increased demand may push up prices)
 Welsh Government 2018-based sub national projections, principal projections
In terms of our local economy, people feel that education, training and employability support should be in place for people of all economic activity levels, including young people. They would like to see more sustainable employment (not just seasonal work), including different types of private employers attracted to the area. They would also like to see recruitment issues in certain sectors tackled e.g. social care and hospitality, where there might be attractive opportunities for young people.
Housing support for young people was discussed at length by people; some of whom feel that rental accommodation is becoming unaffordable. They want to see improved access to good quality affordable housing, including social housing. Redevelopment of empty properties, including repurposing spaces that are no longer used (e.g. office space, dwellings above shops), in place of building new homes could be an opportunity. This could also mitigate people’s concerns that the space between towns and villages is reducing as new housing developments are built.
They were concerned about the cost of public transport, its availability and connectivity with cross county and national routes. that there is little or no incentive to use public transport due to the high cost, inconvenient times and the lack of routes throughout the county and bad national links. This was cited as a particular issue for young and working people.
People also want to see more young people involved in decision making. People told us they value community assets like community-run shops, pubs and businesses, and they want to encourage people, including young people, to get involved in their communities. They felt that more attractive leisure opportunities and activities was needed, particularly in rural areas, and that those needed investment. There was also a wish to support young people’s mental health, which is perceived to have been exacerbated following the social distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
None at present.
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