Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ethnic Segregation in Britain: Spin or Substance?   posted by DavidB @ 11/22/2005 06:45:00 AM

There is a common belief that in Britain the different ethnic groups are becoming increasingly concentrated into different geographical districts, as 'white flight' reduces the proportion of whites in inner city areas, while ethnic minorities cluster together. The Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, recently expressed the fear that Britain is 'sleepwalking to segregation'.

Recent research casts doubt on such claims. The research is by sociologists at the University of Manchester under Dr Ludi Simpson. (Google on "Ludi Simpson" and "segregation" for numerous reports.)

Simpson's own press release summary of the findings is as follows:

Our research suggests there is a lot of good news; in fact, there is more mixing. On balance there is neither retreat nor White flight. The larger populations of Black and Asian communities that have been highlighted are there simply due to natural growth; i.e. people having children. There are no Black or Asian ghettos anywhere in the UK where families of one colour are trapped. In all parts of Britain, the children of immigrants are moving away from so-called ghettos. After a couple of generations the mixing will be far more noticeable and the population growth of these groups will have slowed and probably stopped.

In a more detailed comment on the northern city of Bradford he says:

The broad picture that can be painted from these data is one of dispersal of a growing South Asian population from the inner city. This does not result in lower segregation because the inner city South Asian population is 're-filled' by natural growth (more births than deaths) and by immigration; there is some movement of South Asian families into the housing of White populations who move from inner city areas. Thus the index of segregation for Bradford as a whole has been stable, but this stability is the balance between several different trends.

He adds that recently released data from the 2001 Census supports the Bradford findings for most areas of Britain.

These findings have been widely reported in the Press, generally without criticism or analysis. For example, according to the Guardian:

The study also says that immigration is not the reason for increased numbers of non-white Britons over the past decade, and that "white flight" from inner cities is another myth... The study says the increase in the number of non-white Britons is due to demographics rather than immigration. Ethnic minority populations are younger and have fewer elderly people than white communities. The number of Asian and black people is increasing because fewer die from old age and they have more women of childbearing age relative to white people. The author of the study, Ludi Simpson, said: "The common myth is that the growth of the ethnic minority population is due to immigration. That's not true - it is more due to the growth of [ethnic minority] people born in Britain."

In further press notes Simpson says 'Fertility [of ethnic minorities] has reduced rapidly from the high levels associated with immigrant families. It is the youthfulness of immigrant workers and therefore their low mortality which has caused population growth, not high fertility, and not further immigration'.

This is interesting research, and it is useful as a corrective to unsupported myths. But it may create an equally misleading counter-myth. It is necessary to distinguish between the facts and the PC spin put on them.

The facts are that in inner city areas the proportion of ethnic minorities is increasing, while ethnic minorities are also spreading out into surrounding, previously all-white, areas. This pattern is almost inevitable because the ethnic minority population is growing. But even if the ethnic minority population were not growing, it is predictable that economically successful immigrants would wish to move away from poor quality urban environments, and into previously white suburbs and rural areas.

Whether the combined effect of these factors is regarded as increasing or reducing 'segregation' depends in part on how segregation is measured, which is not straightforward. (For some discussion of different measures see here.) But it is evident that by Ludi Simpson's own chosen Index of Segregation there is no overall reduction in segregation. The growth of ethnic minorities in inner city areas increases segregation, while the dispersal into surrounding areas reduces it. The two factors roughly balance each other. Simpson's own statement 'This does not result in lower segregation' could hardly be clearer. So if Simpson or others choose to headline the claim that 'integration' is increasing, this is giving only half the story.

I don't claim to know whether 'integration' in any useful sense is increasing or not, but one test of this would be to look more closely at where the 'dispersing' ethnic minorities are going. Are they dispersing at random into the surrounding areas, or are they concentrating in more localised districts? For example, some of the outlying areas of Leicester are far more heavily Asianised than others. Some suburban schools in Leicester are now mainly Indian, and schools are a good indicator of the extent of practical integration or segregation. A recent study by Burgess, Wilson and Lupton found that 'Looking at both schools and neighbourhoods, we find high levels of segregation for the different groups, along with considerable variation in segregation across England. We find consistently higher segregation for South Asian pupils than for Black pupils. The data also suggest that segregation tends to be lower for Black pupils where they are relatively numerous, but that no such attenuation exists for pupils of South Asian origin. Indeed, for these groups, segregation is higher where they are relatively numerous'.

There is nothing surprising about non-random dispersal of people with distinctive cultural and religious traditions. People will want access to appropriate places of worship, shops, etc. An important factor in directing dispersal to particular areas is the prevalence of Asian estate agents (realtors) serving mainly their own communities. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be nice to know the facts, and not just prattle about 'integration'.

I was also intending to discuss the claim by Simpson that the main factor in the growth of the ethnic minorities is the age structure of their population, and not continuing immigration or higher fertility. But I will save that for another post.