Penistone East covers an extensive rural area to the west of the M1 motorway, covering 27% of the Borough area. The ward is mainly hilly farmland below the Pennine foothills, heavily wooded in places.
Population density is the lowest of any ward and there are no urban areas in Penistone East. The largest settlement is the village of Silkstone with a population of 1,700. The other main villages are Cawthorne, Silkstone Common, Thurgoland and Hoylandswaine. Smaller villages are Oxspring, High Hoyland, Crane Moor, Green Moor, Wortley, Howbrook, Pilley and Tankersley.
There are eight civil parishes in the ward and parts of two others. In most respects, Penistone East is very different from most of Barnsley. Apart from the rural aspect, it is the most affluent ward in the Borough and has mainly private housing, much of which is detached. Income levels and car ownership are well above the Borough average. In-migration has resulted in a growing population and demand for housing is the highest in Barnsley, especially in Cawthorne. There are relatively few children in the ward and many middle-aged people.
The most affluent villages are Cawthorne, Hoylandswaine, High Hoyland and Green Moor, followed by Wortley, Hood Green and Thurgoland. All have high proportions of professional and managerial workers. The only village with characteristics more typical of the Borough is Pilley.
Most people in Penistone East are commuters who travel to work in surrounding cities and towns. Local employment is a mix of agriculture, manufacturing at Naylor's pipeworks near Cawthorne and various firms at Wentworth Business Park which draws workers from a wide area.
Most villages have a mixture of private housing and have their own council housing, particularly at Pilley and Thurgoland. The ward also has a high proportion of private rented or tied housing, most common at Cawthorne and Wortley.