Case study

Does spatial segregation affect our attitudes to inequality?

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Author: Nick Bailey, University of Glasgow, in collaboration with Maria Gannon, Ade Kearns, Mark Livingston, and Alastair Leyland, University of Glasgow

Date: 26 June 2013

Type of case study: Research

About the research

As income inequalities rise, so too does spatial segregation – the tendency for richer and poorer groups to live in separate neighbourhoods.

This project examines whether spatial segregation may impact on welfare attitudes, specifically our views about whether inequality is too great or our willingness to support more income redistribution, and our views about whether welfare recipients deserve what they receive. It seeks to establish whether spatial segregation might act as a kind of ‘positive feedback’ mechanism; in other words, as we live increasingly apart, does this erode the bonds of solidarity, reducing support for redistribution, further fuelling increases in inequality?

The project has developed a new theoretical framework for considering how neighbourhood context may shape welfare attitudes, drawing on existing literature in neighbourhood effects and political geography. In empirical terms, the project shows a number of significant associations between welfare attitudes, and both neighbourhood deprivation and neighbourhood density. With attitudes to inequality and redistribution, people living in denser or more deprived neighbourhoods tend to show greater support for redistribution. The effects are greater for people on higher incomes and those who are less altruistic in outlook – both groups with lower levels of support for redistribution in general. The trends of rising spatial segregation and of suburbanisation would therefore be likely to lead to declining support for redistribution. 

The research also looked at whether ethnic differences matter: does support for redistribution increase when we live next to any deprived neighbourhood – or does it have to be a deprived neighbourhood composed mainly of people from our own ethnic group? For people from minority ethnic groups, it appears that any kind of deprived neighbourhood increases support for redistribution. For people from the white majority, however, support for redistribution only increases when they live next to a deprived neighbourhood composed mainly of white residents.

With attitudes to welfare recipients, the influence of neighbourhood appears much weaker and, if anything, runs in the opposite direction. Support for welfare recipients declines when people live in denser or more deprived neighbourhoods, at least if they are less altruistic in outlook. Our main explanation for this is that it reflects the influence of national media coverage.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-4192).

About the data

This research draws on data from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2009, part of a survey series that began in 1983. The series is designed to produce annual measures of attitudinal movements to complement large-scale government surveys such as the General Lifestyle Survey and the Labour Force Survey , which deal largely with facts and behaviour patterns, as well as data on party political attitudes produced by the polls. One of its main purposes is to allow the monitoring of patterns of continuity and change, and the examination of the relative rates at which attitudes, in respect of a range of social issues, change over time.

Some questions are asked regularly, others less often. Many were also included in the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey (NISA) series which ran from 1989 to 1996. NISA has been succeeded by the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT) series, and the corresponding Young Life and Times Survey (YLT) series, which surveys young people aged 12 to 17 living in the households of adults interviewed for the NILT survey. Both series began in 1998.

Methodology

The study analysed individual data from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2009 to which a range of measures of neighbourhood context were attached. These measures included neighbourhood deprivation, neighbourhood density and other aspects of social composition including social mix. Indices were constructed of individual attitudes to inequality and redistribution, and to welfare recipients. Data were analysed using multi-level modelling.

Publications and outputs

This research was featured in the following journal article:

Bailey, N., Gannon, M., Kearns, A., Livingston, M., and Leyland, A.H. (In press) 'Living apart, losing sympathy? How neighbourhood context affects attitudes to redistribution and to welfare recipients', Environment and Planning A, 45. doi: 10.1068/a45641 Retrieved 28 August 2013 from http://www.envplan.com/openaccess/a45641.pdf

Findings were also presented at the following conferences and lectures:

Bailey, N., Gannon, M., Kearns, A., Livingston, M., and Leyland, A. H. (2012) 'Living apart, losing sympathy? How attitudes to redistribution and to welfare recipients depend on where you live', Social Policy Association/East Asia Social Policy Research Network, York, UK, 16-18 July 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2013 from http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_266131_en.pdf

Bailey, N., Gannon, M., Kearns, A., Livingston, M., and Leyland, A. H. (2012) 'Living apart, losing sympathy? How neighbourhood context affects attitudes to redistribution and to welfare recipients', Lecture for Centre for Urban Studies, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 9 October 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2013 from http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_266132_en.pdf

Gannon, M., Livingston, M., Bailey, N., Kearns, A., and Leyland, A. (2012) 'Does neighbourhood context impact on attitudes to inequality and redistribution? Questions of scale and patterning', European Network for Housing Research Annual Conference, Lillehammer, Norway, 25-27 June 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2013 from http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_266136_en.pdf

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