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Segregation and social mix studied

The extent to which living in neighbourhoods which are socially mixed or segregated has any impact on our quality of life is to be studied by geographers.

In the study being undertaken by Dr Liz Twigg at the University of Portsmouth and Professor John Mohan at the University of Southampton, people have been quizzed on things such as whether they trust their neighbours, whether antisocial behaviour is a problem in their area and what are the reasons why they might not venture out after dark. The research will look at the influence of neighbourhood characteristics – for example, whether neighbourhoods are socially mixed or not – when studying the answers to these questions.

The results will give insight into the links between social segregation and cohesion and be used to inform the work of government, local authorities and voluntary groups. The £100,000 study is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK’s leading research agency studying economic and social matters.

The Council has also awarded a second £100,000 grant to another geographer at the University of Portsmouth, Professor Richard Healey, in collaboration with Professor William Thomas of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The project will be investigating the migration of heavy industrial workers within the North-Eastern United States from 1850-1900.

Dr Twigg’s and Professor Mohan’s study follows on from other studies into social segregation and social cohesion done at national or regional level. Their study will focus much more closely on neighbourhoods and will use information from various sources, including the British Crime Survey to analyse the effect of social mixing on people’s perceptions of their quality of life.

Dr Twigg said: “What we are looking at is community cohesion – things like neighbourliness and people looking out for one another. The Home Office and local authorities have a real interest in what makes some communities tick better than others.”

This study is the first to use the innovative British Crime Survey in this way, which now has results linked to other socio-demographic data. For the first time, researchers will be able to measure much more precisely the types of neighbourhood characteristics which impact on an individual’s quality of life.

Professor Healey’s study will use advanced software technology and newly available computerised information, including 19th century census data, to study the movement of workers within and between major coalfield regions.

He said: “General migration patterns have been well studied but we know remarkably little about which nationalities went where and how individual workers responded when the US economy suffered periods of recession, for example after the Wall Street crashes of 1873 and 1884.

“Using a combination of the census, mining accident records and data from business archives, we aim to gain a much more detailed understanding of the age structure and occupational characteristics of many of the migrants who left Europe in their millions to seek their fortunes in America.

“Prior to the availability of these new software tools and data resources it was not possible to attempt a study on such a broad geographical scale and even now it represents a major challenge.”

Both research exercises are expected to be completed in mid to late 2009.

Kate Daniell | alfa
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