Young people’s sexuality has been revealed in unprecedented census data showing that 16 to 24-year-olds are twice as likely to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other minority sexual orientation (LGB+) than the general population.

In Brighton and Hove, one of Britain’s long-standing gay capitals, 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 2021 census comes from data that explores the age profile of 1.5 million LGB+ people in England and Wales.

Charts showing 16- to 24-year-olds were more likely to identify as LGB+

Almost one in 10 women aged 16 to 24 identify as LGB+, compared to 2% of women aged 45 to 54.

The census, conducted on 21 March 2021, was the first time government statisticians asked all people over the age of 16 about their sex 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 larger than could be explained by the overall population having 1.5 million more women.

Places with the most diverse sexual orientations in the youngest age group have two or more universities. They include Ceredigion in Wales, Norwich, Cambridge and Lincoln.

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

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Chart showing the likelihood of women aged 16-24 and men aged 25-34 identifying as LGB+.

As the population ages, bisexuality rates decline rapidly and people in all age groups are more likely to identify as gay or lesbian.

The sharp decline in older age groups identifying as minority sexual orientations is likely to raise questions about same-sex attitudes.

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

“It’s because people are afraid to come out and say they’re LGBTQ+,” said a spokesperson for LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. “When homosexuality was criminalized and there was a fear of prison, people over 70 came. You can expect this group to be terrifying.”

The peak age for identifying a minority sexual orientation for men was slightly higher than for women 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 LGB+ in Wales and 3% in England. The island of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales, recorded 485 LGB+ men – 1.8% the lowest of any place in Wales.

When broken down by straight group, age and sex, there were women aged 55 to 64, 92% of whom identified as heterosexual. In both sexes, the proportion of people ticking the “heterosexual” box fell in the 65 and over age groups.

Separate figures on gender identity found that young people are more likely to identify as transgender, with 1% of 16- to 24-year-olds saying their gender identity was different from the gender they were registered at birth. That compares to 0.5% of the total population.

The chart shows that 1% of people in the 16-24 age group identify as transgender

The data also highlighted different views of sex and gender among the transgender population. One in three people who identify as a trans man or trans woman said their gender is different than their gender identity, while nearly two-thirds answered with the same gender they listed as their gender identity.

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

“Rainbow generations are your future,” it said. “Soon these generations will be the largest part of our workforce, the people who consume our media, the talent pipeline for our sports, the audience for our cultural productions, 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, sports club or faith community than previous generations.”

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

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