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A nation still dividing: the British census and social polarisation 1971 - 2001


  • Danny Dorling
  • Phil Rees


This paper presents an analysis of the degree to which the population of Britain has become more or less geographically polarised as compared with 1991 and earlier censuses. We use the Key Statistics for local authorities from the 2001 Census, released on 13 February 2003 by the census authorities. All of the variables from the 26 Key Statistics tables which can be compared over time with the 1991 Census are examined. The analysis is then extended for a subset of variables that were similarly measured in 1971 and 1981. We conclude that for key aspects of life in Britain, as recorded by the censuses, the nation has continued in the 1990s to divide socially geographically, often at a faster rate than was occurring in the 1980s or 1970s. Where there appears to have been a reduction in polarisation it tends to have been for those aspects of life which are now poorly measured by the census. The paper concludes with speculation about the possible reasons for the continued division of the country into areas now more easily than ever typified as being old and young, settled and migrant, black and white, or rich and poor. Finally the potential for the continued sociospatial polarisation of Britain is discussed. The paper begins with a fictional vignette.

Suggested Citation

  • Danny Dorling & Phil Rees, 2003. "A nation still dividing: the British census and social polarisation 1971 - 2001," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 35(7), pages 1287-1313, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:35:y:2003:i:7:p:1287-1313

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mary Amiti, 1999. "Specialization patterns in Europe," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer;Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), pages 573-593.
    2. Dixit, Avinash K & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1977. "Monopolistic Competition and Optimum Product Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 297-308, June.
    3. John S. Chipman, 1970. "External Economies of Scale and Competitive Equilibrium," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(3), pages 347-385.
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    Cited by:

    1. Albor, C. & Uphoff, E.P. & Stafford, M. & Ballas, D. & Wilkinson, R.G. & Pickett, K.E., 2014. "The effects of socioeconomic incongruity in the neighbourhood on social support, self-esteem and mental health in England," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 1-9.

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