The census figures for 2011, recently announced by the Office for National Statistics showed the percentage of Welsh speakers in Ceredigion down 4.68 per cent - 2,954 in hard numbers - compared to the last census in 2001.
A percentage drop of some kind was generally expected, although not necessarily this much, because it’s well-known that there is significant net migration into the county. The figure has gone from 51% down to 47.35%. However the big shock is that 2,954 fewer people in the county recorded themselves as speaking Welsh compared to 2001. People have been asking how this can be, given the increase in Welsh language education, and it’s worth starting the process of unpicking what has gone on. The first place to start is to look at the figures for Welsh speakers in the different age groups in Ceredigion compared to the 2001 census. The figures below are provided by the superb Syniadau blog:
The age group is followed by the number of Ceredigion Welsh speakers up or down and then the percentage up or down.
Age 3-4: Up 15 / Up 2.35%
Age 5-9: Down 599 / Up 2.02%
Age 10-14: Down 387 / Up 1.6%
Age 15-19: Down 219 / Down 11.65%
Age 20–24: Up 433 / Up 1.01%
Age 25-39: Down 1039 / Down 2.19%
Age 40-49: Down 433 / Down 3%
Age 50-59: Down 664 / Down 2.54%
Age 60-64: Up 144 / Down 8.27%
Age 65-74: Down 40 / Down 8.58%
Age 75+: Down 165 / Down 6.27%
Remember, these figures are but one snapshot in time last year compared to another snapshot in time ten years ago.
The first thing to state is the positive point that the percentages of Welsh speakers for all ages up to 14 in the county are up, undoubtedly due to the steadily improving Welsh-language provision in the County’s schools. There also seem to be more Welsh-speaking students at Ceredigion's two universities. It’s just that, despite the good work being done, there are simply far fewer children in the county now, and the good effect of these is being outweighed by other factors. There are huge age-related demographic changes at work here that health professionals have been warning about for years.
The key factor in the lower numbers isn’t older Welsh-speakers dying, as might be expected. By far the biggest drop is amongst the 25-39 age group. This is echoed by the total population changes shown below compared to 2001 where, again, the biggest change is in the 25-39 age group (although I recognise the age groupings given aren’t equal).
Age 3-4 Down 32
Age 5-9 Down 838
Age 10-14 Down 548
Age 15-19 Up 970
Age 20-24 Up 1154
Age 25-39 Down 1603
Age 40-49 Down 338
Age 50-59 Down 909
Age 60-64 Up 1270
Age 65-74 Up 1409
Age 75+ Up 518
So the key overall population factors for Ceredigion are that children are down, students are up, those in both early and late middle age are down and all ages over 60 are up. The net total shows there are now 73,847 people over the age of three in Ceredigion compared to 72,884 ten years ago.
Although the number of people over 60 moving to the County seems, according to the figures, to be cutting the percentage of Welsh speakers, I’m not convinced this makes the crucial difference to the vitality of the language. The key factor for Ceredigion is the devastating loss of 1603 people - 1039 Welsh speakers - between the ages of 25-39. As a comparison, it’s worth recording that, in Cardiff, there was an increase of 9,800 in this age group compared to 2001 and this included 1,162 more Welsh speakers. The losses in Ceredigion continue up to age 59. Losing so many economically active people represents a crisis for the local economy as well as for the Welsh language.
More census details will be released next year, including the figures for those living in the rest of the UK recording their first language as Welsh. However there was no provision in the census to record those Welsh speakers outside Wales not stipulating Welsh as their first language, so we’ll never know the total number. This is a regular and serious omission in all censuses and implies that Welsh is not taken seriously as a ‘British’ language. According to Syniadau, anything between 52,000 and 89,000 Welsh speakers are now estimated to move out of Wales over a ten-year period.
Talking with friends in the pub last night, we all knew of people once very active in the Welsh-speaking community who had moved to England. All of these were highly intelligent people who had moved with the greatest reluctance but had really been left with no other career option. Some will be back. I suspect the majority will not, unless we can start to turn the economy around.
Last week Ceredigion Council heard that their application to turn Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi into a Welsh-medium primary school had been successful. Focussing in this way on the young people that we have, coupled with providing the good jobs, housing and prospects that bright, career-minded local people need, must be the future of the Welsh language in Ceredigion. How we can do this in the current climate is the big question.