2003 volume 35(7) pages 1287 – 1313

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Dorling D, Rees P, 2003, "A nation still dividing: the British census and social polarisation 1971 - 2001" Environment and Planning A 35(7) 1287 – 1313

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

Danny Dorling, Phil Rees

Received 28 April 2003; in revised form 12 May 2003

Abstract. 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.

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