View all news

New atlas of identity in Britain reveals stark social contrasts

Press release issued: 8 September 2007

Identity in Britain: A cradle-to-grave atlas, published by The Policy Press today, provides clear proof that most of Britain is not as diverse country as many believe it to be, and reveals a startling lack of social integration and social mobility.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have created an innovative atlas which provides clear proof that most of Britain is not the diverse country many believe it to be and reveals a startling lack of social integration and social mobility.

Identity in Britain: A cradle-to-grave atlas, published today by The Policy Press, is the first atlas to show how life in Britain varies over seven life stages and according to where we live. It compares over 1,000 neighbourhoods, in terms of people and identities rather than geography.

The atlas shows that our definition of ‘normal’ varies depending on where we live and that many of us don’t understand that other people’s idea of what is normal may be different to ours. It examines what normal means in different neighbourhoods through the seven stages of life. Here are some of the key findings:

  • In the first stage of life (under five) there are no large neighbourhoods where children in the highest social class mix with any other class of children other than the one just beneath them. Infants living in social housing are likely to find themselves in over-crowded homes whilst those whose parents are home owners are often growing up in large houses with a surfeit of rooms.
  • In the second stage of life (5 to 15) the proportion of school-aged children living with a step-parent varies from less than one in twenty in towns and cities, to almost one in five in rural areas. The average child in the wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods can expect to inherit at least 40 times the wealth of the average child in the poorest 10 per cent.
  • Young adults in the third stage of life (16 to 24) in the poorest neighbourhood are nearly 20 times more likely not be in education, employment, or training than those in the wealthiest neighbourhood. In contrast, 50 times more young people from some neighbourhoods enrol at an elite university than others. There are a few large neighbourhoods where not a single child goes to an elite university.
  • During the fourth stage of life (25 to 39), up to two thirds of midlifers in some neighbourhoods have children, while in others, as few as one in seven do. Thus, whether it is normal to have children at these ages now depends on where you live. In every large neighbourhood in Britain, where the majority of midlifers are in professional occupations (AB), the next largest number is in social marketing group C1. Even at these ages, there is not a single large neighbourhood in Britain that could be described as mixed by social grade.
  • In the fifth stage of life (40 to 59) up to three times as many mature people are separated, divorced or remarried as in others and there is a clustering of this group towards the coasts. There almost half of people were once married. Although many people will have first taken out a 25-year mortgage in their 20s, in only half a percent of all neighbourhoods do a majority actually own their property outright.
  • The sixth stage of life (60 to 74) most clearly illustrates the differences between living in poor and wealthy neighbourhoods. Far more men than women can drive. Many old men live in households with access to two or more cars, but far fewer old women do. In a third of neighbourhoods the health of most is only fair, and in a handful of neighbourhoods it is considered normal to be in poor health.
  • In the seventh and final stage of life (75 until death) there are more widows than widowers because men die earlier than women. 20 per cent to 44 per cent of men and 45 per cent to 74 per cent of women have been widowed and not remarried. In every neighbourhood in Britain over the last 24 years, at least one person has lived to be 100, but in some neighbourhoods very many more reach their centenary.

All in all, the atlas provides a myriad of illuminating insights into the neighbourhood geographies of identity and the opportunities and disadvantages associated with living in particular places.

Further information

  1. The report examines over 130 different topics, illustrated with over 280 full colour maps.
  2. The life stages referred to in the atlas are: infancy: ages 0-4; childhood: ages 5-15; young adulthood: ages 16-24; midlife: ages 25-39; maturity: ages 40-59; old age: ages 60-74; truly elderly: age 75 and over.
  3. An online appendix with maps of the parliamentary constituencies and neighbourhoods used in the atlas can be viewed
  4. Authors’ website
  5. A press pack containing elements of the book is available.
  6. For further information, please contact Bethan Thomas on 0114 222 7962, mobile 07980 978 682, email; Daniel Dorling on 0114 222 7910, mobile 07770 766 450, or email; Lindsey Bird, tel. 0114 222 5338, email; Jackie Lawless, tel: 0117 331 4097, 0117 331 4093, email
  7. The Policy Press is a leading social science publisher based at the University of Bristol.
Edit this page