Residential mobility decisions amongst the white UK-born population and ethnic diversity

Gareth Harris, Department of Politics, Birkbeck

Gareth Harris

Co Authors
Eric Kaufmann

Mobility White-UK born ethnic diversity

The paper explores the relationship between mobility decisions amongst the white UK-born population and ward-level ethnic diversity. Rarely does a dataset permit the analyst to track the demographic, geographic and attitudinal properties of respondents. The BHPS/Understanding Society is an exception due to its longitudinal nature, large size and inclusion of attitudinal items. This analysis uses the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society datasets, linked to decennial census data, to help answer the puzzle: why white UK-born residents appear to be more tolerant towards immigration in ethnically diverse areas compared to those who live in less diverse areas.

The research aims to evaluate explanations derived from contact theory, which claim that toleration of minorities by the majority ethnic group is the result of the opportunities for interpersonal contact between members of different ethnic groups that occur in more diverse wards. Two issues that might contradict this account are addressed: First, that more intolerant members of the white UK-born population leave wards that have become more diverse, so that ‘white flight’ or white avoidance of ethnically diverse areas results in selection bias. Second, that certain kinds of white people live in diverse areas and these properties, rather than diversity, are what explain greater toleration. More diverse areas tend to be more transient, with higher levels of population churn. Even if those entering diverse areas are no more tolerant than those leaving them, movers tend to be more tolerant than stayers among the white UK-born population.

The research empirically examines these hypotheses by first, seeking to establish if there is a distinct demographic and attitudinal profile to white respondents who move to more diverse areas as compared with those who leave them. Secondly, multi-level models are employed to estimate the effect of both ward-level ethnic diversity and transience on whites’ mobility decisions.